Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is now listed as a defendant on a privacy lawsuit filed by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine.
According to CNBC, the lawsuit was first filed in 2018. However, Racine did not initially list Zuckerberg as a defendant.
The amendment marks the first time that Zuckerberg has been personally named in a complaint brought by a U.S. regulator. If a court finds that Facebook is liable for breaching consumer privacy statutes, then Zuckerberg may have to pay damages or restitution.
Explaining his decision, Racine said that evidence collected in the past two years makes it increasingly “clear Mr. Zuckerberg knowingly and actively participated in each decision that led to Cambridge Analytica’s mass collection of Facebook user data, and Facebook’s misinterpretations to users about how secure their data was.”
Racine further said that Zuckerberg himself played a critical role in misleading or attempting to mislead the public about Facebook’s role in the scandal.
However, a Facebook spokesperson has since said that Racine’s lawsuit is meritless, no matter the change.
“These allegations are as meritless today as they were more than three years ago, when the District filed its complaint,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to defend ourselves vigorously and focus on the blocks.”
The Cambridge Analytica scandal, notes CNBC, emerged in March 2018, after a media investigation found that data firm Cambridge Analytica harvested information from tens of millions of Facebook profiles.
According to CNBC, the company was able to access users’ private data because of the way that Facebook is designed. At the time, Facebook allowed third-party companies and advertisers extensive access to varied platform features.
In his amended complaint, Racine says that Facebook’s decision to open its platform tools to third-party companies helped expose user data through a “side door.”
“Zuckerberg was personally aware of the risks that sharing consumer data with apps posed, but actively disregarded those risks because sharing data was otherwise beneficial and lucrative to Facebook’s business model and Platform growth,” the lawsuit states.
CNBC notes that many sections of the amended complaint are heavily redacted due to a protective order. However, the sections which are available to the public allege that Zuckerberg was so heavily involved in corporate decision-making that he had a reputation for micromanaging low-level employees.
“Under these circumstances, adding Mr. Zuckerberg to our lawsuit is unquestionably warranted, and should send a message that corporate leaders, including the C.E.O., will be held accountable for their actions,” Racine said in a statement.