Cook County Record

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Facebook: Cook County's lawsuit over 2016 Cambridge Analytica data mining still defective, a 'hodgepodge'

State Court

By Scott Holland | Nov 12, 2019

Facebook headquarters 1 hacker way menlo park
LPS.1 [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

CHICAGO — Facebook has again asked a Cook County judge to dismiss the county’s lawsuit concerning the actions of British data firm Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 presidential election.

On behalf of Illinois residents, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx sued Facebook and Cambridge Analytica  in March 2018, alleging the companies breached the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act by letting user data be mined, allegedly to aid President Donald Trump’s election campaign.

Before a hearing in mid-September, the parties exchanged briefs on Facebook’s motion to dismiss in June and July. In a motion filed Oct. 31, Facebook noted the judge at that September hearing asked whether the county had “the complaint (it) really want(s) to have before the court,” prompting an amended complaint the county filed Oct. 3.

Those 40 extra paragraphs, Facebook said, were the county’s attempt to cure the defects the company identified along with “a hodgepodge of new allegations” that nonetheless confirm the initial deficiencies. Facebook said the amended complaint “adds nothing more than a slew of generalized business connections between Facebook and Illinois—an insurance registration, lobbying activities, sponsorship of certain public events—that have nothing to do with the specific cause of action alleged.”

Facebook further said the county’s addition of references to corporate policies undercut the ICFA claim because its “user agreements clearly disclosed the precise practices” the county challenged. It also argued the county failed to allege a violation of the state’s specific statute covering disclosure of data breaches.

If a dismissal isn’t possible, Facebook said, the court should at least “stay the action in light of parallel claims pending in courts across the country. Cook County’s claim asks this Court to wade into important nationwide policy issues about how users share data on the internet, use privacy settings, and manage third-party access to data. These issues are being addressed in other forums, including most notably in a multi-district litigation in the Northern District of California. Reaching the same issues here risks creating inconsistent, conflicting obligations on Facebook and other companies that operate websites reaching Illinois.”

The Chicago firm of Edelson PC is working with the county on the complaint and could stand to collect about 20 percent of any monetary damages awarded.

Facebook said the amended complaint still fails to show any of its alleged omissions or misrepresentations were targeted specifically at Illinoisans and said several courts have scuttled claims for similarly faulty personal jurisdiction arguments. Even though Facebook has a Chicago office, the complaint doesn’t tie the contested actions to that office or its employees. Likewise, Facebook said allowing advertisers to target a specific audience shouldn’t implicate the company itself.

According to Facebook, the county’s ICFA claim also requires an allegation of intent to induce users to rely on deceptive information. It argued the county can’t make such an allegation because “Facebook disclosed everything to users in clear language.” It further said the county acknowledged Facebook itself was deceived as part of the larger incident.

“Facebook could not have intended to defraud users about conduct being perpetrated by third parties who were themselves defrauding Facebook,” the company said.

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 has argued from the start the lawsuit doesn't belong in Cook County courts, as the company asserted "having an ‘interactive website’ … should not open a defendant up to personal jurisdiction in every spot on the planet where that interactive website is accessible."

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.

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Organizations in this Story

Perkins CoieEdelson, PCFacebookCook County State's Attorney's OfficeCircuit Court of Cook County