SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge on Wednesday granted preliminary approval of Facebook parent company Meta's agreement to pay $725 million to a class of millions of people whose personal information was harvested in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Meta Platforms agreed this past December to pay $725 million to settle claims by its users that the social-media behemoth illegally gave third parties, including political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, access to their private information.
The settlement marks the largest recovery ever achieved in a data-privacy class action, and it is the most Facebook has ever paid to resolve a private class action.
Once finally approved, the settlement will resolve dozens of consolidated lawsuits that resulted from reports in March 2018 that Cambridge Analytica had harvested information from up to 87 million Facebook users. The case expanded to include broader data-sharing practices by Facebook, with claims the company had granted numerous third parties access to users' Facebook content without their consent and had failed to adequately monitor these third parties’ use of that information.
Facebook sought to get the case thrown out in 2019, but Chhabria rejected the company’s argument that people who share personal data on a social media website have no reasonable expectation of privacy.
The plaintiffs — all current and former Facebook users — claimed Cambridge Analytica was one of several to whom Facebook divulged their sensitive information to third parties without consent. Facebook had argued users had no legitimate privacy interest because they willingly share their information through social media.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria shot that argument down, saying the law firmly establishes an individuals’ right to privacy when sharing certain information with a limited audience.
On Wednesday, Chhabria granted a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement, saying in an eight-page order that the agreement on behalf of the class plaintiffs is fair.
“If the settlement agreement is not finally approved by this court, or if such final approval is reversed or materially modified on appeal by any court, this order (including but not limited to the certification of the class) shall be vacated, null and void, and of no force or effect, and Meta and settlement class representatives shall be entitled to make any arguments for or against certification for litigation purposes," he wrote.
Meta must put up a portion of the settlement by April 12 as an initial deposit, and within 30 days pay all subsequent amounts for administrative costs. By April 28, Meta shall provide information about the class members to move forward with a notice plan.
By July 11, plaintiff lawyers must file all papers in support of the application for the final approval order.
The plaintiffs’ co-lead attorneys Lesley Weaver and Derek Loeser said via email that they are “pleased” with Chhabria’s approval of “this historic privacy settlement of claims against Facebook" and look forward to completing the approval process "as quickly as possible.”
Attorneys for Meta did not respond to a request for comment.
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