NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - A U.S. resident has sued Facebook and a British-based political consultancy for obtaining data from millions of the social media site’s users without their permission, while an academic at the center of the storm accused both firms of scapegoating him.
The complaint filed at the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, marked the first of what may be many lawsuits seeking damages over Facebook’s ability to protect user data, and exploitation of the information by the Cambridge Analytica consultancy to help President Donald Trump’s election campaign.
Facebook (FB.O) has been rocked this week by a whistleblower who said Cambridge Analytica, which Trump hired for the 2016 campaign, improperly accessed information on Facebook users to build detailed profiles on American voters.
This revelation has knocked nearly $50 billion off Facebook’s stock market value in two days and hit the shares of Twitter and Snap over fears that a failure by big tech firms to protect personal data could deter advertisers and users and invite tougher regulation.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, who has been quiet on the controversy, is to address the revelations later on Wednesday, a source at the company told Reuters.
The proposed class-action complaint was filed late on Tuesday by Lauren Price, a Maryland resident. “Every Facebook user has an interest in this lawsuit, and the enforcement of their privacy rights,” John Yanchunis, a lawyer for Price, told Reuters on Wednesday. The complaint seeks unspecified damages, including possible punitive damages.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica did not immediately respond on Wednesday to requests for comment.
A former Facebook manager who was responsible for policing the network’s data handling procedures in 2011-2012 said he had warned senior executives about the issue.
The manager, Sandy Parakilas, said he had told them that Facebook’s failure to police how outside software developers used its data put the company at risk of major data breaches. “There was very little detection or enforcement,” he told a British parliamentary committee via videolink.
The academic who provided the data, psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, told the BBC that Cambridge Analytica had greatly exaggerated its role in Trump’s victory.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have both blamed Kogan, who gathered the data by running a survey app on Facebook. Kogan combines the roles of an academic at Cambridge University and a web entrepreneur based in San Francisco.
U.S. political campaigns collect large amounts of data, hoping to target swing voters sympathetic to their message. Cambridge Analytica stood out for the scale of claims in its marketing materials to “collect up to 5,000 data points on over 220 million Americans” in all its activities.
It uses techniques based on personality traits and then applies analytic tools to pinpoint supporters.
However, Kogan said the services provided by the consultancy had been greatly exaggerated.
“I think what Cambridge Analytica has tried to sell is magic, and they’ve made