Centralization Sought for Lawsuits Over Facebook Disclosure of Private Data

Plaintiffs with class action lawsuits against Facebook want the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to consolidate all claims that the social media website wrongly gave out their private information before one judge for pretrial proceedings. 

Facebook faces a growing number of lawsuits following recent revelations that the social network allowed a data research firm, Cambridge Analytica, to access sensitive information about more than 100 million users, which it then allegedly used during the 2016 presidential election.

Since the revelation, at least eight lawsuits have been filed in federal courts nationwide. That number is expected to increase into the hundreds or thousands in the coming weeks and months.

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On March 30, two of the plaintiffs, Theresa Beiner and Brandon Haubert, filed a motion to transfer (PDF) all of the claims to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, indicating that centralizing the cases before one judge as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) would reduce duplicate discovery, avoid conflicting rulings, and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the Court.

The motion comes just days after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) confirmed that it is formally investigating Facebook’s data practices.

According to preliminary information, the data was collected through the use of Facebook Login, which is one of the many technology tools for software developers that allows Facebook users to simply log into a website or app using their Facebook account, making access more convenient for the end user. However, when logging into these types of website or apps, users are ultimately agreeing to share certain information with the app developers such as name, location, and email or friends list, among various other data for academic purposes.

The scandal surfaced around one of the apps called “thisisyourdigitallife,” created by researcher Aleksandr Krogan in 2015, who had 270,000 Facebook users log in to his app using their Facebook account, thus allowing him to gain access to all of their agreed upon data.

During this time, Facebook allowed app creators to collect information on users, such as political preference, photos, and other more personal information. Facebook also opened the door for app creators to gather similar data on that end user’s Facebook friends, which allowed Krogen to expand his user data collection to roughly 50 million people, although only 270,000 people consented.

This latest motion indicates that the number of users affected is actually double the originally estimated 50 million.

“The exfiltrated information was used to create targeted advertising for what has been described as a campaign of “psychological warfare” during the 2016 presidential election,” the motion states. “As alleged in the Actions, the consequences of Facebook’s conduct are severe–aside from the illegal use of Facebook user data for advertising, Facebook’s user data is still apparently in the hands of unknown third parties.”

Facebook previously settled a complaint with the FTC in 2011, for deceiving consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then allowing it to be shared and made public.

Facebook ultimately signed a consent decree in the 2011 settlement, indicating that the social media giant would live up to its updated privacy policies to its users, which some have claimed the recent events have violated that decree and could cost the company billions in daily fines.



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