D.C. Sues Facebook for Sharing User Data Without Permission
By Tony Romm, Craig Timberg, and Aaron C. Davis
The attorney general for the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Facebook for allowing Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, to gain access to the names, “likes,” and other personal data about tens of millions of the social site’s users without their permission.
The lawsuit filed by Karl Racine, confirmed Wednesday by two people familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak on record, marks the first major effort by regulators in the United States to penalize the tech giant for its entanglement with the firm. It could presage even tougher fines and other punishments still to come for Facebook as additional state and federal investigations continue.
Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit comes as Facebook continues to face criticism around the world for mismanaging its users' personal information. On Friday, for example, the company admitted that some users' photos may have been improperly accessed by third-party apps.
On Tuesday, new details emerged about Facebook’s extensive data-sharing arrangements with corporate partners including Amazon and Spotify. A report from the New York Times quickly triggered another round of calls from Capitol Hill for the tech giant to be penalized.
To that end, a person familiar with the new District of Columbia lawsuit said it is likely to be amended in the future to include more recent allegations of improper data collection and use. This person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters not yet public, said several states also are pursuing investigations into Facebook.
Facebook's troubles with Cambridge Analytica came to light in March, after a whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie, revealed that the political firm sought to create "psychographic" profiles about social-media users and target them with messages that preyed on their hopes and fears. Before it shut down, Cambridge Analytica for a time had been managed by Steve Bannon, who was the company's vice president and later served as a top adviser to President Trump.
Cambridge Analytica in 2014 used data collected by a quiz app, which gathered information on those who used it as well as their friends, which numbered in the hundreds for many users. Those data included names, home towns, religious and educational backgrounds, friend lists, and other data, researchers said at the time. In total, the effort allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest insights on more than 87 million users around the world, including 71 million Americans, Facebook previously revealed.
The revelation unleashed unprecedented global scrutiny of Facebook’s privacy practices and a wave of investigations, including in the United States, where Facebook now faces the prospect of serious fines
The federal investigation involving the Security and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Justice Department has been underway for months, focusing in part on whether Facebook’s representations to investors regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal have been full and accurate. The FTC is also probing whether Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica -- and its handling of users' data -- violated a 2011 agreement brokered by the agency that required the tech giant to improve its privacy practices.
Regulators in the United Kingdom announced earlier this year they would penalize Facebook -- a $625,000 fine -- but the company has contested it in court. Previously, Facebook declined to make its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, available to testify in front of lawmakers from the U.K. and eight other countries that remain concerned about the Cambridge Analytica controversy.