Mark Zuckerberg should be held personally responsible for the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016 that effectively helped elect Donald Trump as US president, says Washington DC’s attorney general Karl Racine.
“At all times relevant to the lawsuit, evidence showed Mr Zuckerberg was responsible for and had the clear ability to control Facebook’s day-to-day operations,” Racine said.
“This lawsuit is not only warranted, but necessary, and sends a message that corporate leaders, including chief executives, will be held accountable for their actions.”
Racine wants Zuckerberg to pay, and has previously tried to sue the Facebook founder.
In May, he charged Zuckerberg with “directly participating in decision-making that allowed the Cambridge Analytica data breach – the largest consumer privacy scandal in the nation’s history – while Facebook misled users with claims of privacy and data protection.
“This unprecedented security breach exposed tens of millions of Americans’ personal information, and Mr Zuckerberg’s policies enabled a multi-year effort to mislead users about the extent of Facebook’s wrongful conduct.”
What did Zuckerberg himself think of his culpability of the scandal in which University of Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan scraped the personal data from 270,000 Facebook users, and used the social network’s lax privacy rules to scoop up 50m Americans data?
“I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform,” he wrote in March 2018.
Indeed, Racine contends that Zuckerberg is “directly responsible” for the country’s “largest consumer privacy scandal”. His suit claims “Facebook, under Mr. Zuckerberg’s control,” allowed Kogan’s personality quiz app to collect their data, as well as their “Facebook friends without their knowledge or consent”.
If this sticks and Racine is successful at prosecuting Zuckerberg, it will not be like Al Capone being felled for tax evasion but being a gangster. Or Jacob Zuma (briefly) going to jail not for contempt of court but state capture. This is Facebook’s key offence and not some minor crime.
Racine echoes many people’s thoughts that “corporate leaders, including chief executives, will be held accountable for their actions” if he succeeds. Nor can you disagree when he says, “this lawsuit is not only warranted, but necessary”.
There is no disputing the power and reach of Facebook, which has provided not only a way for all of the world’s online people to connect, but amplified hate speech, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny and more in unimaginable ways.
As whistleblower Frances Haugen acutely pointed out Facebook “prioritised growth over safety”.
With several upcoming pieces of legislation to throttle back the uncontrolled privacy free-for-all of Big Tech and its dominance of the digital landscape, and multiple antitrust lawsuit by many US States and the newly invigorated the Federal Trade Commission, it does seem like a reckoning is coming.
The specific statue that Racine references, seemingly without irony, is the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), which “prohibits unfair and deceptive trade practices”. Those base standards of ethical behaviour went out the window at Facebook years ago. An investigation in Cambridge Analytica by Racine’s office “found that this abuse was among the many examples of Facebook’s failure to adhere to its promises to protect consumers’ data”.
As they say, always sarcastically, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Zuckerberg has repeatedly told the world “I’m responsible for what happens on our platform”. The buck is about to stop with him.