April 22, 2024

A superior court judge on Thursday dismissed a privacy lawsuit brought by the District of Columbia against Meta that accused the company of defrauding consumers by improperly sharing data with third parties, including British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

The decision is a rare victory for Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, as it battles lawsuits from the federal government, states, foreign regulators and consumers over privacy, antitrust and consumer protection disputes.

District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Maurice A. Ross argued that under the district’s consumer protection laws, Facebook’s policies clearly disclose how third parties obtain data, “so that a reasonable consumer would not would be misled.”

The lawsuit, filed in 2018 by then-District Attorney General Karl Racine, followed revelations that Cambridge Analytica harvested tens of millions of Facebook users, including those in the District of Columbia, without their consent The data. Mr. Racine accused Facebook of violating laws in the region.

But Judge Ross said Facebook had not only adequately informed users about how its data was shared with third parties, but had also provided instructions on how to restrict data sharing. He added that Facebook had taken appropriate steps to investigate Cambridge Analytica and notify users after media reports of the campaign emerged.

“While the district may disagree with Facebook’s handling of the situation, there is no legal basis for Facebook to act differently,” Judge Ross said. “Facebook did not materially mislead consumers about their response to Cambridge Analytica.”

“We disagree with the court’s decision and are considering all of our options,” Gabriel Shoglow-Rubenstein, a spokesman for the District of Columbia Attorney General’s office, said in a statement.

Yuan declined to comment.

Meta is facing legal challenges around the world. The company has come under scrutiny and criticism for its handling of disinformation, privacy and competition. In part to change Meta’s narrative, the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been trying to shift its focus to the so-called Metaverse, a space of virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

The dismissal of the DC lawsuit is notable not only in this context, but also because it is a rare victory for one of Meta’s most enduring challenges: the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, which exposed how Facebook’s user data was leaked and disseminated.

Since the Cambridge Analytica issue surfaced, lawmakers and regulators around the world have criticized the way Facebook handles user data. In 2019, the FTC fined Facebook $5 billion for data privacy abuses related to the scandal. In December, Meta agreed to a $750 million settlement to resolve a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of sharing data with third parties, including Cambridge Analytica. Last month, a Delaware judge rejected Facebook’s request to dismiss a shareholder lawsuit over Cambridge Analytica’s data use.

In 2010, Facebook started a project called Open Graph to give developers access to the social network’s data. Thousands of companies and researchers have taken advantage of the program.

One of the researchers was Aleksandr Kogan, who in 2013 created a quiz app for Facebook users that collected data about users and their relationships on Facebook for psychoanalysis.

In 2018, news reports revealed that Mr. Kogan gave data on as many as 87 million Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica, which used the information to build a political profile in order to target voters through campaigns. At the time, Facebook’s privacy practices and use of data by other parties were unknown. The Cambridge Analytica revelations show just how far Facebook user data can travel.

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