By Cat Zakrzewski
WASHINGTON - Washington, DC, Attorney General Karl Racine on Monday sued Mark Zuckerberg, seeking to hold the CEO of Facebook parent company Meta liable for data abuses and for misleading Facebook users about their privacy protections.
The suit, filed in DC Superior Court, alleges that Zuckerberg directly participated in decisions that enabled the Trump-allied political consultancy Cambridge Analytica to siphon the personal data of millions of users. Racine sued the company over its data practices in 2018 in a case that is ongoing, but he is now seeking to fine Zuckerberg personally over his role in the events.
"This unprecedented security breach exposed tens of millions of Americans' personal information, and Mr Zuckerberg's policies enabled a multi-year effort to mislead users about the extent of Facebook's wrongful conduct," Racine said in a news release.
"This lawsuit is not only warranted, but necessary, and sends a message that corporate leaders, including CEOs, will be held accountable for their actions."
Meta spokesman Andy Stone did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Racine is targeting Zuckerberg as his office seeks to take a tougher line against the tech industry. In addition to his ongoing suit against Facebook, Racine has joined state attorneys general in suing Google over misleading privacy practices. He also filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, which was dismissed by the DC Superior Court. Racine in April filed a motion for the court to reconsider that decision.
Racine's efforts have run into obstacles in court. Last year, he attempted to add Zuckerberg as a defendant in his ongoing Cambridge Analytica lawsuit, but a judge in March rejected the effort, saying Racine had waited too long to add the embattled CEO to the lawsuit and that appending him to the suit would not lead to additional relief for consumers
Racine's office said this new lawsuit is based on hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that his staff did not have access to until litigation during the Cambridge Analytica suit, including depositions of Facebook employees and other whistleblowers.
The suit takes aim at Zuckerberg's "unparalleled level of control over the operations of Facebook," noting that Zuckerberg controls almost 60% of the company's voting shares and is personally involved in major company decisions.
The lawsuit argues that the Cambridge Analytica scandal was the result of Zuckerberg's vision to open up the Facebook platform to third party developers. It also alleges that he was aware of the potential harms that might result from sharing consumers' data but failed to act on them. In one email discussing data leakage, Zuckerberg wrote "there is clear risk on the advertiser side," according to the lawsuit.
Facebook's handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal has opened up the company to global regulatory scrutiny. In 2019, the company reached a record-breaking $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. However, the FTC stopped short of some of the tougher punishments it initially had in mind, including more direct liability for Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg was never directly questioned about his knowledge of the company's missteps in that investigation.