Canada: Canadian class action launched over Facebook data-scraping scandal

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Jessica Simpson, shown in her North York office, is the lead plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit against Facebook on behalf of the 622,161 Canadians who may be among 87 million people whose personal data was improperly harvested.© Richard Lautens Jessica Simpson, shown in her North York office, is the lead plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit against Facebook on behalf of the 622,161 Canadians who may be among 87 million people whose personal data was improperly harvested. Facebook is facing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the 622,161 Canadians who may be among 87 million people whose personal data was improperly harvested.

The proposed class action comes on the same day Cambridge Analytica — the British political consulting firm that’s now the subject of political probes in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., as well as an investigation by Canada’s privacy commissioner — said it was shutting down and filing for bankruptcy because news reports about the privacy scandal had “driven away virtually all” of its customers and suppliers.

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A lawsuit filed Wednesday at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice is the second class-action to hit the Silicon Valley heavyweight over the Cambridge Analytica drama. Last month a class action was launched in U.S. district court on behalf of 71 million U.S. and U.K. users whose data may have been scraped by the firm, which has been accused of building detailed voter profiles for electoral gain.

The Canadian class action, which has yet to be certified by a judge, alleges Facebook and Facebook Canada disclosed users’ personal information without their consent and failed to adequately protect their privacy.

A statement of claim filed in the court Wednesday alleges the tech giant “intentionally or recklessly and without lawful justification invaded the private affairs or concerns of the (users) … in a way that a reasonable person would regard the invasion as highly offensive causing distress, humiliation or anguish.”

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The Star is awaiting comment from Facebook after reaching out late Wednesday afternoon.

The lawsuit seeks $62,216,100 in punitive damages, or $100 for each of the 622,161 Canadians Facebook says may have had their info swept up by Cambridge Analytica. The firm, which has denied any wrongdoing, has ties to U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The suit also seeks general damages in the amount of $1,000 for each class-action member.

Cambridge Analytica is not named as a defendant in the Canadian class action, which only names Facebook and Facebook Canada. Both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are defendants in the U.S. class action.

“Companies such as Facebook that collect and use personal information for commercial purposes are obliged to take strict measures to ensure that that information is not shared with or accessed by third parties without proper disclosure and prior consent,” said Sajjad Nematollahi, a Toronto-based lawyer who is representing the plaintiffs.

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“The implications of failing to protect the integrity of users’ personal information extend beyond the privacy of those directly impacted to the foundations of our democracy,” he said.

Jessica Simpson, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, is a newlywed who previously spoke to the Star about her frustration finding out her information may have been scraped.

“I figured I’ve already spoken out about the privacy issues, why stop now?” said Simpson, who works as an event and fundraising specialist at a non-profit.

The data was collected using a personality quiz app that was used by nearly 300,000 people, but it also scraped information about their social network and friends who didn’t install the app directly, gaining access to tens of millions of connections.

That means Cambridge Analytica could have gleaned, without Simpson’s express permission or knowledge, her public profile, photos, current city, location “check-ins,” birthday, “likes,” as well as the posts and messages shared with the connection that authorized the app in the first place.

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She said she hopes the case prompts people to be more mindful about their online activity and that companies step up their privacy protections “to ensure that user data is secure and not being used for other purposes.”

In recent weeks, Facebook has acknowledged it did not do enough to protect people’s personal data. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was grilled last month by U.S. lawmakers about fake news, privacy, political advertising, foreign election meddling and the platform’s role in the democratic process, has also apologized for the breach.

The tech giant has also announced several measures aimed at improving people’s privacy, and among other things is letting people know if their information may have been accessed by Cambridge Analytica on their help centre page.

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