Judge denies Facebook's motion to dismiss Cambridge Analytica lawsuit in DC

Judge denies Facebook's motion to dismiss Cambridge Analytica lawsuit in DC
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A judge late Friday night denied Facebook's motion to dismiss a lawsuit from the Washington, D.C., government arguing the social media giant harmed city residents by failing to protect their data.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Fern Flanagan Saddler decided the case could proceed, rejecting arguments from Facebook that D.C. does not have proper jurisdiction over the California-based social media behemoth that operates around the world.

Saddler also rejected Facebook's request to stay the proceedings pending another class-action case against Facebook in California over similar issues. 

The dismissal came shortly after another judge in Delaware ordered Facebook to turn over emails and records related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal to shareholders suing the company.

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“Protecting people’s information and privacy is a top priority for us at Facebook, and we've taken a hard look at the information apps can use when you connect them to Facebook, as well as other data practices," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill on Saturday. "We know we have more work to do."

"However, we do not believe this lawsuit has any merit and will continue to defend ourselves vigorously," the spokesperson said.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D) last December sued Facebook over its handling of the Cambridge Analytica controversy, arguing that the roughly 340,000 residents who use the platform were harmed by the company's failure to inform them about sharing their information with third parties.

D.C. has also been seeking to unseal documents related to Cambridge Analytica, including an email in which Facebook employees discussed their concerns about the firm years before it was publicly revealed that Cambridge Analytica obtained data on hundreds of millions of Facebook users from a researcher who collected the information through a third-party app on Facebook.

Racine in a statement on Saturday celebrated the judge's decision, saying he was "confident" his office's complaint was "meritorious." 

“We will immediately turn our focus to obtaining all of the evidence proving that Facebook broke District law and did not follow its own policies to protect the privacy of more than 340,000 Facebook users who reside in the District," Racine said in the statement. "We look forward to holding Facebook accountable.” 

At oral arguments two months ago, lawyers with the D.C. attorney general's office argued the roughly 340,000 city residents who use the platform were harmed by the company's failure to inform them about how they were sharing their data with third parties. D.C. is arguing that Facebook failed to enforce its own privacy policies and that its privacy settings in general are "ambiguous and confusing." 

Facebook has responded that D.C. does not have an argument for jurisdiction beyond "users who live in the District use Facebook."

Saddler in her decision said D.C. does have jurisdiction over Facebook, arguing that Facebook operates as a "storefront" in the city that conducts "business transactions" when District users create their profiles. 

Racine's lawsuit marked the first major legal action against Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica controversy by an attorney general.

The D.C. attorney general's office did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.

Updated on June 3 at 12:32 p.m.