What just happened? It's been four years since Facebook became embroiled in its biggest scandal to date: Cambridge Analytica. In addition to paying $4.9 billion to the Federal Trade Commission in a settlement, the social network has just agreed to pay $725 million to settle a long-running class-action lawsuit, making it the biggest settlement ever in a privacy case.
To recap, a whistleblower revealed in 2018 that now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal data of almost 90 million users without their consent for targeted political ads during the 2016 US presidential campaign and the UK's Brexit referendum.
The controversy led to Mark Zuckerberg testifying before congress, a $4.9 billion fine levied on the company by the FTC in July 2019, and a $100 million settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. There was also a class-action lawsuit filed in 2018 on behalf of Facebook users who alleged the company violated consumer privacy laws by sharing private data with other firms.
Facebook parent Meta settled the class action in August, thereby ensuring CEO Mark Zuckerberg, chief operating officer Javier Oliva, and former COO Sheryl Sandberg avoided hours of questioning from lawyers while under oath. A court filing on Thursday disclosed the financial terms of the settlement.
Lawyers for plaintiffs in the case say $725 million is the largest amount to ever be achieved in a data privacy class action and the most that Meta has ever paid to resolve a class-action lawsuit. The agreement still requires the approval of a federal judge overseeing the suit.
Meta has maintained it did no wrong in the Cambridge Analytica incident. It did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, insisting the agreement was "in the best interest of our community and shareholders."
Meta said it has revamped its approach to privacy and implemented a comprehensive privacy program over the last three years as a response to the suit. According to the filing (per Bloomberg), Facebook no longer allows third parties to access data about users via their friends, has strengthened its ability to restrict and monitor how third parties acquire and use Facebook users' information, and has improved its methods for telling users what information Facebook collects and shares about them.
This doesn't mark the end of Meta's dealings with the Cambridge Analytica fallout. Zuckerberg is facing a lawsuit from Washington DC's attorney general Karl A. Racine over allegations that the Meta boss was personally involved in failures that led to the incident and his "policies enabled a multi-year effort to mislead users about the extent of Facebook's wrongful conduct."