Facebook Seeks Dismissal Of Privacy Class-Action Over Cambridge Analytica

Policy questions stemming from the Cambridge Analytica debacle, including questions concerning how Facebook explains data sharing to users, should be settled in “robust public discourse” as opposed to the courts, Facebook says.

“The Cambridge Analytica events drew public attention to the policy implications of sharing data on the Internet, sparking an important and ongoing discussion about the ways in which people’s data can be used (and misused),” the company writes in papers asking U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California to dismiss a class-action privacy complaint.. “But Facebook’s role in these events does not give rise to a viable cause of action.”

The social networking service adds that the broad questions raised by the lawsuit shouldn't be decided “on a piecemeal basis in courts.”

“The very kind of policy and social issues raised in the complaint ... are the subject of Congressional hearings, regulatory inquiries, and robust public discourse. That is where those discussions belong,” Facebook writes in its new papers, filed late Friday.

The company's argument comes in a lawsuit over this year's revelations that President Trump's data consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, obtained personal information for as many as 87 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica, now defunct, received the data from researcher Aleksandr Kogan, who obtained the information in 2014 through the personality quiz app "thisisyourdigitallife." Only 270,000 Facebook users downloaded Kogan's app, but he was able to gather data about many of those users' contacts.

In April of 2015, Facebook stopped allowing developers to access data about users' friends. But in 2014, when Kogan's app scraped the data, Facebook allowed developers to glean information about users' friends, subject to their privacy settings. Facebook's terms of service prohibited developers from sharing that information.

News of Cambridge Analytica's data grab sparked an ongoing Federal Trade Commission investigation, Congressional scrutiny and a class-action privacy lawsuit on behalf of Facebook's users.

Facebook is now urging Chhabria to dismiss the lawsuit for numerous reasons. Among others, Facebook contends that users whose data was taken agreed to share that data with developers.

“Facebook users consent to their data being shared with third-party apps and have the option to limit such sharing or turn it off entirely,” the company writes. “The problem with Cambridge Analytica ... was that the app developer, Dr. Kogan, obtained the user data (with consent) but then sold it to Cambridge Analytica in violation of Facebook’s policies. And even that risk was fully disclosed.”

Facebook also contends that the users shouldn't be able to proceed in court because they weren't injured by the data sharing.

Chhabria is expected to hold a hearing on the matter in January.

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