Zuckerberg avoids Cambridge Analytica deposition as Facebook agrees to settle

Zuckerberg avoids Cambridge Analytica deposition as Facebook agrees to settle

It’s been four years since users alleging harm caused by the Cambridge Analytica scandal sued Facebook (now Meta) for selling tons of easily identifying personal information to third parties, allegedly doing so even when users thought they had denied consent. In 2018, plaintiffs alleged in a consolidated complaint that Facebook acted in “astonishingly reckless” ways and did “almost nothing” to protect users from the potential harms of this “intentionally” obscured massive data market. The company, they said, put 87 million users at “a substantial and imminent risk of identity theft, fraud, stalking, scams, unwanted texts, emails, and even hacking.” And users’ only option to avoid these risks was to set everything on Facebook to private—so even friends wouldn’t see their activity.

Because of Facebook’s allegedly deceptive practices, plaintiffs said that “Facebook users suffered injury in ways that transcend a normal data breach injury.” Plaintiffs had gotten so far in court defending these claims that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was scheduled to take the stand for six hours this September, along with lengthy depositions scheduled for former Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and current Meta Chief Growth Officer Javier Olivan. However, it looks like none of those deposits will be happening now.

On Friday, a joint motion was filed with the US District Court for the Northern District of California. It confirmed that the plaintiffs and Facebook had reached a settlement agreement that seems to have finally ended the class action lawsuit that Meta had previously said it hoped would be over by March 2023.

It’s not clear yet how much the settlement will cost Facebook—which has already paid billions in fines to the FTC—but there may be more information on Facebook sanctions in the next few days. Although the joint motion requested 60 days to draft a written settlement agreement, US district judge Vince Chhabria only granted the motion in part. Chhabria said he still expects all parties to “appear at the hearing on Friday, September 2 to discuss sanctions.”

Meta and Facebook’s legal team told Ars that it has no comment. The plaintiffs’ legal team did not immediately respond.

What did Facebook users want the court to decide?

Originally, the plaintiffs in their complaint that the court order asked a Facebook audit and disclosure, a change to Facebook’s default settings, “compensation for intrusions into privacy at an earlier level,” and damages to users “who did not understand what was taken from them and how Facebook has profited.” Additional relief was also requested.

Part of their complaint was that privacy settings that actually granted users control over their data were buried in the app, while privacy settings that did not offer the same control over data were made accessible. This, the plaintiffs alleged, was deceptive to users, who claim they weren’t even informed once Facebook learned about the illegal Cambridge Analytica data purchase.

Since 2018, Meta has changed some of Facebook’s policies, but plaintiffs alleged that “it has done so now only in the wake of regulatory and governmental outrage.” In addition to fines, the FTC imposed “significant requirements to boost accountability and transparency” in 2019.

Currently, Congress is considering legislation called the Digital Accountability and Transparency to Advance Privacy Act (aka the DATA Privacy Act), which would grant federal protections for users of popular web services. If passed, the law would force tech companies to provide “consumers with accessible notice of the business’ privacy practices.”

Until tech becomes better regulated, users are forced to place trust in companies to update their policies as privacy and security risks become known. On an earnings call earlier this year, Meta signaled that it is motivated to continue updating its policies. Leadership said that the company would be investing in more privacy-safe ways for advertisers to target marketing to users. That includes beta-testing with large advertisers a new “privacy enhancing” technology called Private Lift. This “measurement solution,” Meta says, adds “extra layers of privacy to limit the information that can be learned” by both advertisers and Meta while still allowing advertisers to effectively target users.

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