In a blow to Facebook, a federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the company violated users' privacy by sharing their information with outside developers, including the data consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco rejected Facebook's argument that people have no privacy interest in data once they share it with their social media friends.
“Facebook’s argument could not be more wrong,” Chhabria wrote in a 43-page ruling issued Monday. "Sharing information with your social media friends does not categorically eliminate your privacy interest in that information."
The ruling stems from a class-action complaint brought last year, shortly after it emerged that defunct data consultancy Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge or explicit consent.
Cambridge Analytica obtained the information from researcher Aleksandr Kogan, who gleaned the data in 2014 through the personality-quiz app "thisisyourdigitallife," according to reports. Only 270,000 Facebook users downloaded Kogan's app, but he was able to gather data for up to 87 million users.
The lawsuit was later expanded to include allegations that Facebook shared users' data with a broad array of outside developers, including the video provider Netflix. The claims in the complaint include violations of California privacy law, the federal wiretap law and the federal video privacy law.
Facebook argued the claims should be dismissed for numerous reasons, including that users have no privacy in information they've shared with their friends.
In rejecting that approach, Chhabria discussed a scenario involving someone who shares medical information with a select group of people.
“It does not follow that if you send an email to selected colleagues and friends explaining why you’ll be out of commission for a while, you’ve relinquished any privacy interest in your medical condition, such that the email provider could disseminate your diagnosis to anyone who might be interested in your health status,” he wrote. “Similarly, social media users can have their privacy invaded if sensitive information meant only for a few dozen friends is shared more widely.”
Facebook also unsuccessfully argued that users weren't injured by the alleged disclosures, and therefore lacked “standing” to move forward in court.
Chhabria rejected that stance, ruling that Facebook's position disregards “the importance of privacy in our society, not to mention the historic role of the federal judiciary in protecting it.”