Facebook's Triple Woes Over Cambridge Analytica Data Harvesting Scandal

from the privacy?-what-privacy? dept

Earlier this week, Techdirt wrote about a defeat for Facebook in the Irish courts. In fact, the case in question is not about Facebook itself, but about transatlantic data transfers. Facebook will certainly have some problems if the EU's top court goes on to rule against the Privacy Shield framework -- the real issue here -- but it won't be alone. Moreover, if that were the company's only problem, it probably wouldn't cause Mark Zuckerberg to lose much sleep. However, it is far from his only headache. Recently, no less than three decisions specifically about Facebook were handed down, all related to the by-now infamous Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal, and all going the wrong way for Zuckerberg.

As Bloomberg reports, a San Francisco federal judge indicated he won’t dismiss lawsuits brought against Facebook on behalf of tens of millions of users. They blame the company for allowing their private information obtained from their friends' accounts to be shared with Cambridge Analytica:

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria is overseeing dozens of suits alleging users have no real control over their personal information, and that the company has repeatedly misled users to continue mining it.

The suits have a long way to go before users stand a chance of claiming billions of dollars in damages. Chhabria isn't addressing the merits of the complaints, only deciding whether the allegations are legally sufficient to proceed. The next step will be for users to seek internal information from the company to back up their claims.

Reuters says that Facebook suffered a similar fate in Washington, D.C.:

A U.S. judge on Friday denied Facebook Inc.'s request to dismiss a lawsuit by the Washington, D.C. attorney general over the social media giant's improper sharing of 87 million users' data with British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

The U.S. capital city sued Facebook in December, accusing it of misleading users because it had known about the breach for two years before disclosing it and had allowed third-party app makers to access user information without their consent.

Around the same time, a court in Delaware was also ruling against Facebook in connection with Cambridge Analytica, reported here by Forbes:

A court in Delaware sided with Facebook shareholders who are suing the company for access to internal information that might show wrongdoing relating to the company's various privacy issues. The investors want access to emails and other documents relating to Facebook providing Cambridge Analytica with data on some 87 million users.

It's important to note that in all three cases, the rulings are preliminary, simply allowing things to proceed to a full trial. But we do have a sneak peek of what one of Facebook's main arguments might be. Speaking before the judge in San Francisco, a lawyer for Facebook claimed as follows:

"There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy," on Facebook or any other social media site, company attorney Orin Snyder told U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria.

A month before that interesting statement, Mark Zuckerberg was telling everyone that "The future is private". Given what one of his lawyers is now insisting in court, that seems to imply that Facebook's social network is not the future.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

Filed Under: class action, data sharing, lawsuits, privacy
Companies: cambridge analytica, facebook


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 6 Jun 2019 @ 2:03am

    That'll save some time reading

    "There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy," on Facebook or any other social media site, company attorney Orin Snyder told U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria.

    Well, I certainly can't see that blowing up in their face or being used against them in the future...

    Silver lining though, if that's the argument that the company wants to go with that will really save space regarding Facebook's privacy policy, as there will be no need for a huge wall of text explaining how they can do whatever the hell they want if you use their platform, and instead they can replace it all with three simple words: 'You have none.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 6 Jun 2019 @ 3:50am

      Re: That'll save some time reading

      I'd love to see a follow-up question to that if it comes up in court. Something along the lines of "if there is no privacy on Facebook, does that mean that you are defrauding users when you offer them privacy controls?"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 8:12am

        Re: Re: That'll save some time reading

        The other follow up question would be if Facebook has any privacy - and assuming a two-way street: they don't - then anyone should have access to their internal documents and emails without a court order.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 12:32pm

          Re: Re: Re: That'll save some time reading

          assuming a two-way street

          Did you sleep through the last 50 years of corporate behavior? I give us another 5 before SCOTUS declares them to have a constitutional right to privacy. (The users, of course, will have no access to courts because of binding arbitration clauses.)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 4:14am

      Re: That'll save some time reading

      I kind of agree with Facebook on this. Did internet users really expect privacy?

      What's next: a lawsuit against a homeless person to pay back the $20 "loaned" to him or her on the street last month?

      "Contributory negligence" is a sound defense here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        ryuugami, 6 Jun 2019 @ 4:35am

        Re: Re: That'll save some time reading

        Hm, lets see what Facebook says about that...

        Facebook Privacy Basics

        You have control over who sees what you share on Facebook.
        That way, you’re free to express yourself the way you want.
        We’re here to help you do that.

        You’re In Charge -- Learn how you're in control of your Facebook experience.

        Manage Your Privacy -- Learn how to customize your privacy settings so you can confidently share your moments.

        It would appear that Facebook itself thinks that internet users do expect privacy.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 9:03am

          Re: Re: Re: That'll save some time reading

          Believing that would only bolster the contributory-negligence defense.

          This is also useful in debt relief: "Your Honor, they were contributorily negligent for lending me the money in the first place."

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 12:14pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: That'll save some time reading

            ...except in this case, Facebook's privacy policy is actually tied to various privacy laws on the books. So if contributory negligence is called here, that means that Facebook has also opened itself up to interstate fraud claims, privacy violations, and false advertising.

            Even though it's been obvious to some of us since Facebook first left the college campus (or even before) that there could be no expectation of privacy on Facebook, they still had legal obligations they paid lip service to, that their actions did not back up.

            In essence, saying that the users were contributorily negligent for sharing the data in the first place means that Facebook just admitted to contravening European and Canadian privacy law, and US interstate commerce law. That's going to cause them much more pain than avoiding that defense and claiming they tried their best but third parties abused their access.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2019 @ 4:36am

    I do not have a Faceboot account. However I seem to recall hearing that people say you can mark some things as "private".

    If the website supports that... wouldn't that defeat their own argument?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 6 Jun 2019 @ 5:52am

    "There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy," I already avoid Facebook but if this isn't enough to sound a red alert on those who use I don't know what is. I honestly believe some of the actions taken and that are being discussed are the wrong solution but it's hard to argue against them when Facebook does and says this kind of thing. Facebook will end up being the driver that will break the Internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dan Neely (profile), 6 Jun 2019 @ 8:28am

    "There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy," on Facebook or any other social media site, company attorney Orin Snyder told U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria.

    That's right up with someone on trial for murdering his parents pleading with the court for mercy because he's an Orphan.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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