Cook County Record

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Cook County official argues lawsuit against Facebook should remain in Illinois

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By Dan Churney | Jul 2, 2019

CHICAGO – Lawyers for Cook County are arguing the county can continue its lawsuit in Cook County court against Facebook, which alleges the company let user data be mined to aid President Donald Trump’s election campaign, because Facebook drew a bull's-eye on Illinois residents.

On behalf of Illinois residents, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx sued Facebook and British data firm Cambridge Analytica in March 2018 in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging the companies breached the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act. Facebook is headquartered in Menlo Park, California. Facebook wants the case dismissed; Foxx filed arguments June 24 against dismissal.

According to the suit, Facebook allowed now-defunct Cambridge to “steal” information from as many as 87 million Facebook users, under the “false pretense” of “academic research.” Cambridge allegedly then distributed the data to manipulate voting by Illinois residents, and millions of other American voters, to help Trump's 2016 presidential bid.

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx | Youtube screenshot

For a time, the case was removed from Cook County and consolidated in a California federal court with similar suits from around the country. The suits were bundled together in the federal jurisdiction in which Facebook is based. However, the federal judge in the case returned Foxx's suit to Cook County, saying the suit “serves primarily the interests of the State of Illinois” and doesn’t “overlap” with private interests involved in the other suits.

Facebook is contending if the Cook County action persists, a precedent will be set that allows internet companies to be sued anywhere at any time. Facebook acknowledged there are Facebook users in Illinois, but said that's far from enough to sustain the suit. Facebook also argues users knew their data could be gleaned. The company wants the case dismissed or at least put on hold while the consolidated suits are handled in California.

Foxx, through the Chicago law firm Edelson PC, is arguing Facebook targeted Illinois.

"There is no doubt that jurisdiction over Facebook exists in Illinois for this case," J. Eli Wade-Scott, an Edelson lawyer, said. "Facebook does a lot more in this state than just running a website: it operates a sophisticated data mining operation, through which it knows precisely who its users are, and its misrepresentations at issue here were directed to those users in Illinois. Facebook put the millions of Illinois users from whom it mines information in harm’s way and lied to them about how safe it had kept them."

Wade-Scott went on to deride Facebook's contention the public found out about Cambridge's work in 2015, when Facebook also learned of it, and didn't mind.

"If Facebook is right that everyone knew and didn’t care, the sudden backlash — from users, the public, and governments here and abroad — three years later when a former Cambridge Analytica employee came forward is inexplicable," Wade-Scott said. "Facebook’s claim that the Cambridge Analytica scandal was known to its users and was immaterial to them is a bold argument indeed, but one that must fail."

Wade-Scott also wrote off Facebook’s concern it could be sued all over the country if Cook County's case proceeds. He said it's "irrelevant" whether Facebook allegedly harmed users elsewhere and could be sued in those jurisdictions, because for the purposes of an Illinois suit, it only matters that the company harmed Illinois users.

Facebook is represented by the firms of Perkins Coie LLP, of Chicago, and the New York and San Francisco offices of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, which is headquartered in Los Angeles.

According to Edelson's contract with the county, the firm looks to collect 20 percent of any money Facebook pays the county.

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