Facebook parent Meta Platforms agreed Friday to settle a class action lawsuit seeking damages for allowing British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica access to the private data of tens of millions of Facebook users. The settlement will spare CEO Marc Zuckerberg an embarrassing court appearance to defend his company.
Lawyers acting for the plaintiffs and for Facebook filed a joint request with the US District Court for the Northern District of California on Friday, asking the judge to put the class action on hold for 60 days while the two parties finalised a written settlement for an as-yet undisclosed amount.
The high profile lawsuit has been running for over four years and claims that Facebook shared data of millions of US voters with Cambridge Analytica.
“Because the Parties have reached an agreement in principle of the Action, and believe it will facilitate the process of finalising a written settlement agreement and presenting to the Court for preliminary approval, the Parties jointly request a stay of the Action for sixty (60) days,” co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs Lesley E. Weaver wrote in the filing, adding that lawyers for both sides supported the request.
The lawsuit was brought by a group of users who alleged a Facebook quiz app called “This Is Your Digital Life” created by Cambridge Analytica harvested users’ data that included data describing users’ Facebook Friends, potentially accessing the personal information of 80 million-plus users.
The app is said to have been downloaded by over 300,000 Facebook users. All this data was then allegedly used by the UK firm to build profiles of US voters and microtarget them with political advertisements.
Facebook could have access to vast amounts of user data
In a 2018 blog, researcher Jonathan Bright detailed how Facebook APIs were capable of collecting user data for years.
The information that could be harvested by Facebook apps, according to Bright, was extensive and including “about me, actions, activities, b-day, check-ins, education, events, games, groups, hometown, interests, likes, location, notes, online status, tags, photos, questions, relationships, religion/politics, status, subscriptions, website, work history.”
Cambridge Analytica went bankrupt soon after the exposé in 2018 and was also accused of meddling in the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK.
Meta has paid billions of dollars in fines and settlements since a Cambridge Analytica whistle blower exposed the mass data misuse in 2018. The social networking firm has already paid a $5 billion fine to FTC as a fallout of the scandal, another $4.9 billion of claimed settlement with FTC, and a fine of $630,000 to UK authorities.
Meta even faces another lawsuit filed last year by Facebook shareholders in September claiming the FTC settlement amount was $4.9 billion and was paid to FTC as “an express quid pro quo to protect Zuckerberg from being named in the FTC’s complaint, made subject to personal liability, or even required to sit for a deposition.”
Settlement comes as a relief for Marc Zuckerberg
Friday’s settlement will save senior Meta executives a trip to court. Zuckerberg was scheduled to appear for a six-hour deposition on September 20, with Meta’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Chief Growth Officer and Vice President Javier Olivan also due to appear. Sandberg has already resigned from her position as COO and will be leaving the company later this year.