Meta, Cambridge Analytica, New Settlement Details
In July of 2022, it was announced that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and former COO Sheryl Sandberg were scheduled to provide testimony to the Northern District of California San Francisco Division with regard to the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal that was first uncovered in 2018. However, reports that come out on Saturday, August 27, 2022, confirmed that Facebook had instead chosen to settle the lawsuit that had been imposed against the social networking giant in the state of California, in what has become a recurring trend for the company as it concerns the Cambridge Analytica scandal. To this last point, Facebook agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) $5 billion dollars in 2019, after a government agency filed its own complaint against Zuckerberg and Facebook.
Much like the lawsuit that was filed in California against Facebook this year, the complaint the FTC filed against the company was also in relation to the Cambridge Analytical scandal. This being the case, the central theme of all of the lawsuits that have been filed against Zuckerberg and Facebook have been based on the premise that the company had essentially misled Facebook users about the ways in which the social media platform was protecting their personal data and privacy. For this reason, many privacy advocates around the world have been concerned about Zuckerberg’s trend of settling lawsuits that have been brought against him, as the enormous monetary fines that his company continues to pay have yet to address the underlying issues that influenced the Cambridge Analytica scandal in the first place.
Transparency and accountability
On top of the lawsuits that have been levied against Facebook in California, as well as the suit that the FTC imposed against the company, a third lawsuit was filed in the state of Delaware in July of 2021. While this lawsuit also highlights the alleged ways in which Facebook had failed to protect the personal information and privacy of its respective users, the suit takes it a step further by alleging that the huge settlement the company agreed to pay the FTC in 2019 was done so in an attempt to reduce Mark Zuckerberg’s culpability in the Cambridge Analytica fiasco. As having Zuckerberg named directly in the lawsuit would have made him subject to personal liability, the lawsuit that was filed in Delaware claims that Zuckerberg effectively chose to protect his personal image instead of protecting the millions of consumers that use his company.
More specifically, “the suit quotes a commissioner on the FTC, Rohit Chopra, who said the government “essentially traded getting more money, so that an individual did not have to submit to sworn testimony and I just think that’s fundamentally wrong. The lawsuit claims that the settlement was approximately $4.9bn more than Facebook’s maximum exposure under the applicable statute”. Likewise, it has been reported that the FTC initially desired to name Zuckerberg directly in the complaint they filed against the company, despite the fact that these details were not made public until two years later in 2021.
To make matters worse, it was also revealed that two Democrats that were employed by the FTC in 2019 when the government agency reached a settlement with Facebook “voted against the settlement in part because of the lack of personal liability for the CEO.” For reference, the FTC has publicly stated that the fine they initially sought to impose against Facebook would have been closer to $106 million, a far lesser amount than when the company ultimately paid to settle its case. Moreover, Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have repeatedly declined any interviews that would have required them to answer questions regarding the multiple lawsuits that have been filed against Facebook, much less the actual scandal that created such a debacle in the first place.
While Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to dodge responsibility for the occurrence of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is already a concerning development on its own, these actions are even more questionable when considering the other numerous privacy violations that Facebook has also been alleged of committing in the past decade. To illustrate this point further, the FTC filed a complaint against Facebook in 2012 for allegedly “deceiving consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public.” Subsequently, Facebook also agreed to “take several steps to make sure it lives up to its promises in the future, including by giving consumers clear and prominent notice and obtaining their express consent before sharing their information beyond their privacy settings.” Nonetheless, the Cambridge Analytica scandal completely violated the settlement that Facebook had reached with the FTC several years prior.
While the truth about the Cambridge Analytica scandal will never be clear until Mack Zuckerberg or one of the other various high-level executives that were employed by Facebook at the time comes forward with further information concerning the matter, it is clear that the company violated the personal privacy of its numerous users to some extent. Furthermore, due to the huge role that Meta currently plays in the global technology landscape in general, it is imperative that the organization safeguards the personal information of its users, as their failure to do so could continue to cause additional harm and scandals that are very much unnecessary.