The 2016 election is almost six years in the past, but the results are still the most mind-boggling for Facebook parent company Meta. A years-long legal battle over the Cambridge Analytica scandal has put CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the congressional hot seat and forced numerous changes to Facebook’s privacy and security features. One of the most serious cases against Meta appears to be headed for settlement. The company has entered into a preliminary agreement in San Francisco federal court that will protect Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg from testifying.
Facebook exploded in popularity in the mid-2000s, eventually becoming the world’s largest social network. With all these users, the site was a source of information during the 2016 election cycle. The UK political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica’s collection of data on millions of Facebook users has hit the company hard, but the fallout has been minimal.
In the prime days of 2016, Facebook allowed third parties deep access to its platform. Cambridge Analytica used this access to collect data on approximately 50 million users (down from initial estimates of 87 million). The firm, which worked with then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign, used the data to target ads and develop profiles of potential voters. There were also accusations of promoting racial bias to suppress black voters.
The lawsuit in the Northern District of California alleges that Facebook acted illegally by failing to protect user data. Zuckerberg and co have been reluctant to talk about the issue publicly, except for his 2018 visit to Congress. The data collected by Cambridge Analytica is not only about US-based users, but privacy regulators and legislatures in other countries haven’t even seen Zuckerberg.
The settlement, the details of which are still under seal, will spare Zuckerberg and Sandberg hours of sworn testimony about the company’s operations. Even if they were forced to testify, they probably wouldn’t claim that Facebook’s tools were being used to exfiltrate mountains of data on Facebook users.
The settlement was agreed in principle, and both Meta and the state asked for a 60-day break in the case to finalize the details. So, later this year, we’ll likely hear what it took to move the case. Hopefully, the financial penalty is slightly higher than the £500,000 UK fine. Cambridge Analytica faced collapse. It was discontinued in 2018, but several companies related to Cambridge Analytica still exist.