DC Sues Facebook Over Cambridge Analytica Fallout

The offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London were photographed here on March 20, 2018, after it was announced that Britain’s information commissioner Elizabeth Denham is pursuing a warrant to search the company’s computer servers. Denham said she is using all her legal powers to investigate Facebook and political campaign consultants Cambridge Analytica over the alleged misuse of millions of people’s data. Cambridge Analytica said it is committed to helping the U.K. investigation. (Kirsty O’Connor/PA via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Describing how the Cambridge Analytica scandal laid bare Facebook’s profound betrayal of its users, the attorney general for the District of Columbia hit the social media giant with a demand Wednesday for civil penalties and restitution.

Filed in Superior Court, the 21-page complaint by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine says that Facebook violated consumer-protection laws with its “lax oversight” and willingness to share and sell the personal data of 70 million users in the U.S. to Cambridge Analytica.

“Facebook misrepresented the extent to which it protects its consumers data, requires third party developers to respect its consumers’ personal data, and how consumers’ agreements with third party applications control how those applications use their data,” Racine wrote.

Facebook has faced mounting criticism since admitting last year that the political-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica managed to harvest personal data from 70 million Facebook users with a quiz app that only 852 accounts had installed.

The revelation kicked off a series of probes into the company, including an ongoing investigation run jointly by the Security and Exchange Commission, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

New details on the probe emerged only Tuesday when The New York Times reported that Facebook’s internal records depicted the emergence of disturbing patterns as the company pursued exponential growth.

The Times report claims Facebook allowed search engines, like Microsoft’s Bing, to view the profiles of users’ friends without their consent and allowed applications like Netflix and Spotify to read private messages.

Facebook has denied the allegations.

Racine meanwhile says more than 340,000 D.C. residents belong to the group of Facebook users whose data was collected by Cambridge Analytica, and that Facebook harms consumers through even the most basic user-interface failures.

Consistently “confusing and ambiguous” privacy and application settings unnecessarily befuddle consumers, Racine said.

A representative for Facebook did not immediately respond to request for comment Wednesday.

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