Friday, August 26, 2022

Meta's Facebook Settles Data Privacy Lawsuit

The corporate parent of Facebook has struck a preliminary settlement in a lawsuit claiming that the world's biggest social network service enabled Cambridge Analytica, a British corporation that backed Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, access to the personal information of millions of its users. The four-year-old lawsuit alleged that Facebook violated consumer privacy laws by sharing personal data of users with third parties such as the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica.

It was believed that if Meta had lost the lawsuit, it would have been required to pay hundreds of millions of dollars.

In court records filed late Friday, the terms of the settlement negotiated by Meta Platforms, the holding company for Facebook and Instagram, were not revealed. The motion in federal court in San Francisco asked a 60-day stay of proceedings while attorneys complete the settlement. This schedule indicated that further information may be published by the end of October.

According to court filings, the agreement was made only a few weeks before the September 20 deadline for Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg to submit to depositions during the last rounds of pre-trial evidence collection.

Zuckerberg might have been deposed for up to six hours. Sandberg, who is resigning after 14 years as chief operations officer, might have been questioned for up to five hours.

The issue arose from 2018 reports that Cambridge Analytica, a company with links to Trump advisor Stephen Bannon, had paid a Facebook app developer for access to the personal information of around 87 million Facebook users. This information was subsequently utilized to target American voters throughout the 2016 campaign that resulted in the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president.

The ensuing controversy prompted senators to interrogate a remorseful Zuckerberg during a high-profile congressional session and prompted demands for Facebook users to deactivate their accounts. Even if Facebook's growth has slowed as more individuals interact and amuse themselves on competing platforms such as TikTok, the social network still has around 2 billion members globally, including roughly 200 million in the United States and Canada.

The lawsuit, which had sought certification as a class action on behalf of Facebook users, claimed certified the privacy breach demonstrated Facebook is a "data broker and surveillance corporation" in addition to being a social network.

It is disappointing that the timing of the prospective settlement would protect Zuckerberg and Meta's departing chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, from being required to appear next month during up to six hours of questioning by plaintiffs' attorneys.

The Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr, whose investigations into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica also inspired the Netflix film The Great Hack, stated: "It is a sign of how desperate Zuckerberg is to avoid answering questions about Facebook's cover-up of the Cambridge Analytica data breach that Facebook has settled this case just days before he was to be cross-examined under oath for six hours."

The depositions are expected to begin on September 20 for Zuckerberg and Sandberg, who just announced she will step down in the fall.

In a second lawsuit filed last year, it was alleged that Facebook overpaid the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by $4.9 billion in order to shelter Mark Zuckerberg from the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

The lawsuit said that the motivation for the $5 billion settlement was a desire to avoid Facebook's creator from being identified in the FTC complaint.

Cadwalladr added: "Facebook has shown that it is willing to spend nearly any amount of money to prevent its leaders from answering these questions. In addition to the $5 billion previously paid to the FTC, this settlement will be paid.

"One day, the truth will be revealed, but that day is not now."

In the latest court filing, which was made public late Friday night, neither the financial terms nor the specifics of the preliminary settlement are provided.