Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc has agreed to pay $725 million to settle a class-action lawsuit accusing the social media giant of allowing third parties, including Cambridge Analytica, to access users’ personal data. The proposed settlement, disclosed in a court filing late Thursday, would resolve a long-running lawsuit sparked by revelations in 2018 that Facebook allowed British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to access the data of up to 87 million users.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs called the proposed settlement the largest ever reached in a US privacy class action and the highest Meta has ever paid to settle a class action. “This landmark settlement will provide the class with significant relief in this complex and novel privacy case,” the plaintiffs’ lead attorneys, Derek Loeser and Lesley Weaver, said in a joint statement.
Meta did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement, which is subject to approval by a federal judge in San Francisco. The company said in a statement that the settlement was “in the best interests of our community and shareholders.””Over the past three years, we’ve overhauled our approach to privacy and implemented a comprehensive privacy program,” Meta said.
Cambridge Analytica, now defunct, worked for Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign and gained access to personal information from millions of Facebook accounts for profiling and voter targeting.
Cambridge Analytica obtained this information without users’ consent from a researcher who was allowed by Facebook to deploy an app on its social media network that collected data from millions of its users. The subsequent Cambridge Analytica scandal sparked a government investigation into its privacy practices, lawsuits and high-profile hearings in the US Congress where lawmakers grilled Met chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
In 2019, Facebook agreed to pay $5 billion to settle a Federal Trade Commission investigation into its privacy practices and $100 million to settle claims by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it misled investors about its misuse of user data.
Prosecutors’ investigation continues and the company is fighting a lawsuit from the Washington, D.C., attorney general. Thursday’s settlement resolved claims by Facebook users that the company violated various federal and state laws by allowing app developers and business partners to bulk collect their personal data without their consent.
Lawyers for the users argued that Facebook misled them into thinking they could retain control over personal data, when in fact it allowed access to thousands of preferred outsiders. Facebook argued that its users had no legitimate privacy interest in the information they shared with friends on the social network. But U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria called that opinion “so wrong” and largely allowed the case to move forward in 2019.