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Washington sues Mark Zuckerberg over Cambridge Analytica privacy breach

Mark Zuckerberg (Niall Carson/PA)
Mark Zuckerberg (Niall Carson/PA)

The District of Columbia has sued Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg, seeking to hold him personally liable for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a privacy breach of millions of Facebook users’ personal data that became a major corporate and political scandal.

DC attorney general Karl Racine filed the civil lawsuit against Mr Zuckerberg in DC Superior Court.

The lawsuit maintains that Mr Zuckerberg directly participated in important company decisions and was aware of the potential dangers of sharing users’ data, such as occurred in the case involving Cambridge Analytica.

(Alamy/PA)

The data-mining firm gathered details on as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission.

Their data is alleged to have been used to manipulate the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Zuckerberg, who co-founded Facebook and has headed its board since 2012, controls more than 50% of Facebook’s voting shares and “maintains an unparalleled level of control over the operations of Facebook as it has grown into the largest social media company in the world”, the lawsuit says.

Mr Racine is seeking damages and penalties from Mr Zuckerberg as may be determined in a trial.

Meta, the parent of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is based in Menlo Park, California.

Facebook has nearly three billion users worldwide, and Meta has a market value of more than 500 billion dollars (£400 billion).

Karl Racine
Karl Racine (Andrew Harnik/PA)

Meta, Google, Amazon and Apple have been targeted in legal actions in recent years by federal regulators and state attorneys general of both parties accusing the tech behemoths of market dominance and abuse, but Mr Racine’s suit brought the rare action of a regulator specifically aiming at a Big Tech CEO.

Mr Racine tried last year to add Mr Zuckerberg as a defendant in his ongoing suit against Facebook over Cambridge Analytica from 2018, but a DC Superior Court judge thwarted that attempt in March, saying Mr Racine had waited too long.

“What value does it add to name him? There’s no more relief for the consumers of the District” of Columbia, Judge Maurice Ross said.

Mr Racine is now asserting that thousands of documents he has since gained access to in the case establish Mr Zuckerberg’s direct participation in decision-making on Cambridge Analytica, and he is therefore suing him directly.

A year ago, Mr Racine sued Amazon, accusing the online retail giant of anti-competitive practices in its treatment of sellers on its platform.

The practices raised prices for consumers and stifled innovation and choice in the online retail market, he alleged. Amazon rejected the allegations.

That suit was dismissed by the court and Mr Racine has asked for it to be reconsidered.