Image Source: Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images, FILE
The attorney general of Washington, DC, has filed a lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg, claiming that the Facebook co-founder was personally responsible for allowing the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica to gather the personal data of millions of Americans during the 2016 election season.
The lawsuit, filed in the District of Columbia’s capital by Attorney General Karl Racine, claims that Zuckerberg was actively involved in rules that allowed Cambridge Analytica to collect personal data on US voters without their consent in order to aid Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
“This extraordinary security breach exposed the personal information of tens of millions of Americans, and Mr. Zuckerberg’s policies enabled a multi-year attempt to mislead users about the scope of Facebook’s improper conduct,” Racine said in a statement.
“This case is not only justified, but also vital, since it sends a message that business leaders, especially CEOs, will be held accountable for their acts.”
Racine previously sued Facebook’s parent corporation, Meta, under the Consumer Protection Procedures Act of the District of Columbia. Individuals are held liable for infractions if they were aware of them at the time.
Hundreds of thousands of documents, including depositions from workers and whistleblowers, have been acquired as part of the company’s ongoing battle against Meta.
“Since initiating our landmark action against Facebook, my office has fought tooth and nail against the company’s well-known attempts to withhold documents and otherwise impede our case. “We’re sticking with it, and we’ve followed the facts all the way to Mr. Zuckerberg,” Racine added.
Racine claims that Zuckerberg’s intention to open up Facebook to third-party developers led to the Cambridge Analytica incident.
The lawsuit claims that Zuckerberg was aware of the potential for data leaks as a result of the plan. According to the lawsuit, in one email concerning state leaking, Zuckerberg stated that “there is clear risk on the advertising side.”
According to the lawsuit, Zuckerberg has been chairman of Facebook’s board of directors since 2012 and controls around 60% of the voting shares.
In a statement, Racine’s office said, “Evidence revealed Mr. Zuckerberg was responsible for and had the clear authority to govern Facebook’s day-to-day operations at all periods relevant to the litigation.”
According to the Guardian, Cambridge Analytica, which was employed by Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, had access to the personal information of 50 million Facebook users. The data might be used to identify different types of voters and influence their decisions, according to the company.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) penalized Facebook a record $5 billion in 2019 for abusing customer privacy. Critics of the fine say it did not go far enough to modify the company’s behavior and that Zuckerberg should have been sued.
Suing corporate leaders in their personal capacity can be “tough,” according to Carl Tobias, Williams chair in law at the University of Richmond, and Racine had failed in an attempt to sue Zuckerberg earlier this year when the claim was submitted too late. “While this filing appears to be innovative, it may not be more effective than prior attempts to sue CEOs and company leaders in their personal capacity,” Tobias added.