Facebook is urging a judge in Washington, D.C. to halt proceedings in a lawsuit brought by the attorney general Karl Racine, who alleges the company wrongly allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest data about users.
The social networking platform also wants to immediately ask an appellate court to throw out Racine's lawsuit.
The legal battle dates to last December, when Racine alleged that Facebook's “lax oversight” allowed the defunct Cambridge Analytica -- President Trump's former data consultancy -- to collect information about tens of millions of the social networking service's users, including more than 340,000 D.C. residents.
Racine claims that Facebook violated a D.C. consumer protection law by failing to notify users that their data could be shared without their knowledge or explicit consent. The district's consumer protection law specifically prohibits companies from misleading consumers by making incorrect statements, or by omitting key facts.
Earlier this year, Facebook asked D.C. Superior Court Judge Fern Flanagan Saddler to dismiss the lawsuit at a preliminary stage for several reasons. Among others, Facebook said the D.C. court lacks jurisdiction over the California-based company.
In a decision issued late last week, Saddler rejected that argument on the grounds that Facebook profits from D.C. residents, and has conducted business within the district.
“Facebook made repeated filings with the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs,” Saddler wrote in a decision issued late last week. “Additionally, Facebook purportedly operates an office with over 150 employees within the District...Finally, it is alleged that Facebook acquired an estimated $10 million in revenue from its District of Columbia users in the fourth quarter of 2018 alone.”
Facebook is now asking Saddler for permission to immediately appeal that ruling, and to stay all proceedings while the appeal is pending.
The company argues in its new papers that the D.C. Court of Appeals should decide whether the company must face suit in the city.
“There are substantial grounds for a difference of opinion as to whether social media companies like Facebook are subject to specific personal jurisdiction in the District of Columbia,” the company writes. “This Court should certify an interlocutory appeal to the D.C. Court of Appeals to give that court an immediate opportunity to determine whether Facebook is subject to personal jurisdiction.”
Facebook also argued to Saddler that the allegations, even if true, wouldn't amount to violations of D.C.'s consumer protection law. The company said it notified users via the data use policy that anything they shared with friends could also be shared with developers.
Saddler rejected that argument as well. She wrote that Racine's allegations, if true, “could lead a reasonable consumer to find Facebook's disclosures ambiguous and misleading.”
Cambridge Analytica allegedly purchased personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users from Alexsandr Kogan, a professor who collected the information in 2014 via his personality quiz app "thisisyourdigitallife." That app was downloaded by 270,000 Facebook users, but Kogan was able to gather information about millions of those users' friends.
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 like Kogan from sharing that information.