Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine on Monday filed a lawsuit against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for allegedly failing to secure millions of users’ data during the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal.
The 37-page filing (pdf) accuses Facebook, now known as Meta Platforms, of violating the district’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act by misleading users about how their data will be used and inappropriately sharing information with Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct British political consulting firm once hired by former President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign team.
“Facebook looked into Cambridge Analytica and determined that it posed a risk to consumer data but chose to bury those concerns,” the lawsuit states.
Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook’s parent company Meta, allegedly encouraged third-party companies’ access to user data during the 2016 election in an attempt to shift the outcome, the lawsuit claims.
“The evidence shows Mr. Zuckerberg was personally involved in Facebook’s failure to protect the privacy and data of its users leading directly to the Cambridge Analytica incident,” Racine said in a statement.
According to the civil suit, the exposed data covers more than 70 million Facebook users in the United States, including over 340,000 Washington, D.C. residents. The trove includes users’ ages, interests, pages they’ve liked, groups they belong to, physical locations, political affiliation, religious affiliation, relationships, and photos, as well as their full names, phone numbers, and email addresses.
“Zuckerberg was personally aware of the risks that sharing consumer data with apps posed, but actively disregarded those risks because sharing data was otherwise beneficial and lucrative to Facebook’s business model and Platform growth,” the claim asserts.
Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A judge earlier this year ruled against allowing Racine to add Zuckerberg as a defendant in the district’s original 2018 lawsuit against Facebook over the scandal. In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook over the same issue a record $5 billion in penalties.
The attorney general is pursuing the latest lawsuit to hold the CEO personally responsible for the data breach. The district also seeks damages and civil penalties if the social media giant is convicted.
“This lawsuit is not only warranted, but necessary. Misleading consumers, exposing their data, and violating the law come with consequences, not only for companies that breach that trust, but also corporate executives,” Racine said.