Facebook took only years to grow into a massive social media presence worth billions of dollars. With claims of billions, actually billions, of users.
But in the last year or so it’s been under fire for letting companies skim off details of users and sell those, for allowing “Russians” to buy ads and try to influence the 2016 election, for allowing Democrats to pull a similar stunt in a 2017 special election, for its concerted attack on conservative speech, and much, much, more.
Now there could be real trouble for the Mark Zuckerberg and his company.
So says a report in Hollywood Reporter which outlines how a prosecutor in Illinois has outsourced to a private lawyer the enforcement of the state’s consumer protection law.
The Reporter explanation, by Eriq Gardner, reveals how class action lawsuit attorney Jay Edelson is representing the people of Illinois through an arrangement (ala Robert Mueller and the FBI) with Kimberly Foxx, the state’s attorney in Cook County.
“Edelson is ostensibly representing the people of Illinois through Foxx on a claim that Facebook engaged in unfair and deceptive conduct. Or, stated another way, a government official has outsourced law enforcement to a class-action attorney,” the Reporter said.
Edelson now is a special assistant state’s attorney, appointed to punish Facebook for “violating The Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.”
Under the law, a company could be fined $50,000 in civil penalties “per violation.”
Also available are injunctive relief and possibly even the loss of a business license.
“That’s right. Theoretically, Facebook could pay billions and be prohibited from offering its service in Illinois if it loses this lawsuit,” the report said.
It’s all fallout from the revelations that Cambridge Analytica had used harvested data from Facebook users to try to swing the 2016 election.
Edelson’s court filing against Facebook alleges, “This kind of mass data collection was not only allowed but encouraged by Facebook, which sought to keep developers building on its platform and provide companies with all the tools they need to influence and manipulate user behavior. That’s because Facebook is not a social media company; it is the largest data-mining operation in existence.”
“Sharp words, but Edelson obviously wasn’t alone in expressing that sentiment. In addition to the many lawsuits filed over Cambridge Analytica, lawmakers have expressed outrage that Facebook hasn’t taken user privacy seriously enough. And millions of consumers have decided to ditch the platform. But Edelson’s lawsuit is notable — and not just for what the complaint says and the prospect that Facebook may pay through its digital nose,” the report said.
Victory could spur imitators. And even federal legislation on the dispute.
The scenario has resulted in alarm at Facebook.
“[T]he case is being directed and financed by private attorneys with no accountability to the state or Illinois voters, pursuant to a contract of questionable validity that awards them a significant contingent interest in any recovery,” its lawyers claimed.
The impact of the case could be widespread
“What Edelson’s case portends is politically connected plaintiffs’ lawyers working hand in hand with local regulators and testing out new legislation coming from the progressive quarters of the nation. These sorts of partnerships, sure to raise constitutional challenges, threaten to become disruptive to companies that once made disruption a key part of their own missions. That could well become the incentive for goliaths like Facebook to get behind new federal legislation if only to preempt states like Illinois and California taking an even more punitive approach to privacy breaches. Already, the tech lobby has begun its push. It’s not out of generosity. The goal is to supersede what’s happening stateside,” the report said.
The headwinds it’s facing already have cost the company a third of its value, and the chief, Zuckerberg, had to testify to Congress.
Many more Facebook customers have simply taken a break from the platform.
Among issues that may come up are Facebook’s agreements that “reportedly allowed companies like Amazon and Sony to surreptitiously obtain users’ names, emails and contact information and might have technically allowed other companies including Netflix and Spotify to read users’ private messages (even if there is no evidence that this actually happened or even that Facebook’s partners were aware of such powers).”
Edelson, on the dispute, told the Reporter, “The way that defendants deal with privacy cases is to try to get them kicked out on technical grounds so there is never any discovery. So when they argue, ‘There’s no standing. There’s no damages,’ their goal is to never get to discovery. But when regulators bring suit, it’s hard for them to have that silver bullet in the beginning.”
He even has a backup plan.
“He’s currently pursuing Facebook on another front — alleging in a separate case that the social media giant violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, a first-in-the-nation state statute that governs the collection and storage of fingerprints, facial scans and other bodily identifiers,” the report said.
That action claims Facebook violated state law by identifying and tagging the individuals in pictures posted by its users.