This class action alleges that Facebook, Inc. allowed Cambridge Analystica, LLC (CA) to mine the data of some 50 million Facebook users, for the purpose of influencing voters in what the complaint calls “an unprecedented attack on democracy”—not to mention an unprecedentedly massive misuse of personal information. Facebook has admitted that most of its users have likely had their information scraped by outsiders.
The class for this action is all individuals in the US who signed up for Facebook accounts and whose personal information was obtained from Facebook without their authorization or in excess of their authorization. An Alabama subclass has also been proposed.
As a social media and networking service, Facebook possesses personal information on approximately 2 billion users, often including birthdays, education history, activities, photos, relationships, locations, religion, work histories, and more. The complaint claims that this information was supposed to be used only for “expressly disclosed and limited purposes.”
How did this happen? Aleksandr Kogan, who is affiliated with Cambridge University, collaborated with CA to pay hundreds of thousands of users to take a personality test and permit their data to be collected for academic use.
However, the app collected information about the test-takers Facebook friends and, against Facebook rules, passed on over 50 million profiles to CA for its political uses. A Washington Post article claims that the information it took was extensive, including hometowns, work and educational histories, religious membership, and likes. Out of these 50 million, a New York Times article says, about 30 million contained enough data to be matched with other records to build psychographic profiles.
Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower and a lead engineer on the CA project, laid out the scheme in an article in the Guardian. He claimed that Facebook users’ data was used to manipulate or influence voters towards voting for Donald Trump and other Republicans.
According to Wylie, Facebook knew because its security protocols were triggered by Kogan’s apps pulling such a large amount of data. However, Wylie says, Kogan repeated that it was for academic use, so they allowed it.
In December 2015, the complaint says, the Guardian published an article claiming the information had actually been used to help Ted Cruz in his run for the presidency. However, the complaint says that all Facebook did was write a letter, saying they had not been allowed to do this and should delete the information.
The complaint claims that Facebook and Cambridge have violated the Stored Communications Act, the Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and common law. The US Federal Trade Commission and Congress are investigating.