Mark Zuckerberg Could Be Facing Major Consequences Due To Facebook Data Breaches

Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg is again in the hot water over the wrongdoings of Facebook, but this time, it is the past shady moves by the social media platform that are coming back to haunt him. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (District of Columbia) has filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg for being an integral part of the decision-making chain that paved the way for the massive Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal.

The latest legal charge initiated by Racine is his second attempt at pulling in Zuckerberg as a defendant in the case, instead of the company itself. The first request filed in 2018 was rejected by DC Superior Judge Maurice Ross, saving the Meta chief from being personally held accountable for the data privacy scandal. The latest lawsuit filed by Racine again aims to put Zuckerberg in the defendant's seat, alleging that he should have been aware of the company's privacy policies and that he was responsible for implementing deceptive policies that were abused under his watch. The lawsuit seeks to force Zuckerberg into paying appropriate restitution to those affected by the string of events.

What is Zuckerberg being sued for?

As per the release from the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Zuckerberg has been sued "for directly participating in decision-making that allowed the Cambridge Analytica data breach." Citing an investigation, the statement adds that the Meta chief played a role in Facebook's relaxed oversight over the safety of user data and putting in place confusing privacy policy and user agreement terms. The data allegations have some material backing too.

In the words of whistleblower Christopher Wylie, Facebook allegedly did nothing for two years once the scandalous activities of Cambridge Analytica were brought to its attention. The lawsuit claims that it was Zuckerberg's decision to open Facebook to third parties that allowed the likes of Cambridge Analytica to harvest a massive cache of user data that was used to "manipulate the 2016 election."

The lawsuit also mentions that aside from trying to hide the problems plaguing the social media platform, Zuckerberg also intentionally misled the public, the media, and political leaders. Additionally, the lawsuit targets the very core design of Facebook that has far exceeded the boundaries of being just an online destination for people to connect. "Given that Facebook's platform was designed to allow abuse, Zuckerberg's company largely operated without proper safeguards," adds the lawsuit.

What is the Cambridge Analytica scandal?

Touted as one of the biggest user data breach and harvesting incidents of its kind, it was this bombshell incident centered on Facebook that really exposed the dark underbelly of the internet's data economy and how it is used for everything from ad targeting to swaying voter sentiments. The scandal grabbed media highlights all across the globe after whistleblower Christopher Wylie went public with revelations that Cambridge Analytica created an app called "thisisyourdigitallife" that paid users to collect their responses in the name of academic research.

But in the background, the app harvested data from the profiles belonging to friends and acquaintances of the test-takers. The data harvesting included everything from what a user liked and the status updates they posted to where they lived, helping build an entire psychological profile of the subjects for pushing content that might be relevant to them. The modus operandi is familiar for the online advertisement business, but links to the Trump Presidential campaign and how the company helped push targeted political ads using voter data is what really rang alarm bells.

Coming to the political influence of the scandal, Cambridge Analytica reportedly maintained up to a staggering 5,000 data points on each potential voting target. And depending upon the source, the number of Facebook profiles that had their data scraped falls anywhere between 50 million and 87 million. However, experts argue that the number could be much higher.

The aftermath of Cambridge Analytica mess

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, British, European Union, and U.S. authorities launched separate investigations into Facebook as well as Cambridge Analytica. In one of the first punitive actions against the social media titan, Facebook agreed to pay a fine of £500,000 to the U.K.'s Information Commissioner's Office for breach of data protection laws.

In July 2019, the U.S. FTC imposed a record-breaking fine of $5 billion on the company over charges that included deceiving users about the privacy of their personal data and directed Facebook to institute reforms that make it more accountable for any such incidents in the future. Brazil also levied a fine of nearly $1.64 million on Facebook over the questionable use of nearly half a million users' data.

In the wake of the controversy, Facebook announced a set of moves such as informing users affected by the data harvesting, making it easier for users to access the privacy settings, restricting an app's access to user data, cutting off an app's data access privilege after three months of inactivity, and disabling a search feature that let anyone find a person's Facebook profile using their phone number or email address. The company also claims to have suspended "tens of thousands" of apps as part of its investigation into malicious applications.