The fallout from the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal continues to follow Facebook and its parent, Meta Platforms.
Reuters reports that Meta has agreed to pay US$725 million to resolve a U.S. class-action lawsuit accusing Facebook of allowing third parties, including British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, to access the personal information of as many as 87 million users in several countries, including Canada and the U.S, to target political ads in the 2016 Brexit referendum and that year’s U.S. federal election.
Meta did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement, Reuters said, which is subject to the approval of a federal judge in San Francisco.
If approved, the settlement will resolve claims by Facebook users that the company violated various federal and state laws by letting app developers and business partners harvest their personal data without their consent on a widespread basis.
Reuters says the users’ lawyers alleged that Facebook misled them into thinking they could keep control over personal data, when in fact it let thousands of preferred outsiders gain access.
Facebook argued its users have no legitimate privacy interest in information they shared with friends on social media, says the news agency. But U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria called that view “so wrong”, and in 2019 largely allowed the case to move forward.
By contrast, an attempt by Canadian Facebook users to launch a class action lawsuit against Facebook was sunk by an Ontario judge earlier this year.
In 2019, Facebook agreed to pay US$5 billion to resolve a Federal Trade Commission probe into its privacy practices, and US$100 million to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission claims that it misled investors about the misuse of users’ data.
In Canada, the federal privacy commissioner has taken Facebook to court after the social media company refused to acknowledge it had violated the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in the gathering of information from an estimated 622,000 Canadians.
The data came from an app, offered to Facebook users by the University of Cambridge researcher Aleksandr Kogan, which purported to be a personality quiz called This Is Your Digital Life for academic research. Unknown to participants, the data was shared with SCL Elections and its subsidiary, Cambridge Analytica. Lists of individuals, based on modeling by SCL and Kogan, were then provided to British Columbia-based AggregateIQ for the placement of targeted political ads on Facebook.
Participants in the quiz didn’t realize that allowing their personal profiles to be accessed allowed the profiles of their followers to be accessed as well. So, for example, while only 53 people in Australia installed the This is Your Digital Life app, according to court documents it was able to harvest the data of about 311,127 people.
In February, Facebook lost a major battle with the Australian privacy regulator relating to Cambridge Analytica, after a court dismissed the social media giant’s claim that it neither conducts business nor collects personal information in the country. The decision allowed the privacy commissioner to continue a lawsuit against Facebook.