Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook’s exposure of the personal information of its users to other companies has been the focus of congressional hearings.

Now, the attorney general for the District of Columbia is suing the social media platform for “failing to honor its promise to protect its consumers’ personal data.”

AG Karl Racine charged Facebook also “deceived” users “about who had access to their data and how it was used.”

“Facebook put users at risk of manipulation by allowing companies like Cambridge Analytica and other third-party applications to collect personal data without users’ permission,” he said.

“Today’s lawsuit is about making Facebook live up to its promise to protect its users’ privacy.”

Racine said the company’s abuses “exposed nearly half of all district residents’ data to manipulation for political purposes during the 2016 election.”

Before the 2016 vote, some Facebook users downloaded a “personality quiz” app which also collected data from their Facebook friends without their knowledge or consent, the AG explained.

“The app’s developer then sold this data to Cambridge Analytica, which used it to help presidential campaigns target voters based on their personal traits. Facebook took more than two years to disclose this to its consumers. OAG is seeking monetary and injunctive relief, including relief for harmed consumers, damages, and penalties to the district,” the announcement said.

Racine’s office explained: “As part of its business model, Facebook collects data that touches on every aspect of users’ personal lives. This includes information provided by the user (name, gender, birthdate, email address, hometown, interests, education, political affiliation, photos, messages, etc.) and information about users’ digital behavior (their friends, ‘likes,’ ‘shares,’ clicks on the site, and more). Facebook offers social networking services for free and uses the personal data it collects to sell targeted advertising to marketers. It also allows third-party developers to build applications that operate on the Facebook platform and offer services including calendar and email integration, games, and quizzes.”

But in 2013, the company let Aleksandr Kogan of Cambridge University launch a program that claimed to be a personality quiz. It collected information without permission not only from the users but from their Facebook friends.

The information then was monetized.

The complaint cites violations of the Consumer Protection Procedures Act by misleading users, failing to monitor apps’ use of data, creating obstacles to users controlling their data settings and other privacy violations.

The complaint charges Facebook failed to honor its “promise to protect its consumers’ personal data.”

“Facebook collects and maintains a trove of its consumers’ personal data, as well as data regarding consumers’ digital behavior on and off the Facebook website. Facebook permits third-party developers – including developers of applications and mobile device makers – to access this sensitive information in connection with offering applications to Facebook consumers. Facebook’s consumers reasonably expect that Facebook will take appropriate steps to maintain and protect their data. Facebook tells them as much, promising that it requires applications to respect a Facebook consumer’s privacy,” the complaint charges.

“Facebook has failed to live up to this commitment.”

Not only do Facebook’s practices violate district consumer protection laws, they “misrepresented the extent to which it protects its consumers’ personal data.”

The case could be just the first of many, since Facebook’s privacy practices have been the reason for complaints by consumers nationwide.

While only 852 consumers in the district downloaded the Cambridge survey, Facebook copied the private information of more than 340,000 residents in the district.

The complaint seeks a permanent ban on Facebook’s actions, restitution, damages and “civil penalties in an amount to be proven at trial.”

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.