Meta to Pay $90 Million to Settle Decade-Old Facebook Data Privacy Lawsuit

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, agreed to pay $90 million to settle a long-running data privacy lawsuit over its use of cookies in 2010-11 to track users’ internet use even after they had logged off.

The settlement was submitted for approval late Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The agreement is subject to court approval. The $90 million will be distributed among plaintiffs who submit verified claims that they were affected by Facebook’s web tracking.

If finalized, it stands to rank as one of top 10 largest data privacy settlements in U.S. history — although it’s dwarfed by Facebook’s $650 million class-action litigation settlement approved last year, a case in which the tech giant was alleged to have violated users’ privacy via its photo-tagging feature that used its now-defunct facial-recognition system.

As part of the settlement entered Feb. 14, Facebook agreed to sequester and delete all the data at issue. Filed in 2012, the case centered on Facebook’s use of proprietary browser plug-ins to track users’ visits to third-party sites. Facebook obtained consent to track subscribers while logged in but promised to stop the tracking once the subscriber logged out — which, according to the class-action suit, was not the case.

Asked for comment, a Meta spokesperson said, “Reaching a settlement in this case, which is more than a decade old, is in the best interest of our community and our shareholders and we’re glad to move past this issue.”

Facebook had prevailed in the case three times in trial court over the span of seven years before it went to the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In a 2020 opinion on the litigation, the 9th Circuit held that the unlawful copying and monetization of personal data creates “economic harm,” even if the value of the data in plaintiffs’ hands does not diminish as a result. Lower federal courts had been split on the issue, with some requiring a showing that the value of the data in question diminished. The 9th Circuit also ruled that Facebook was not a party to the communication that it allegedly intercepted for purposes of the Wiretap Act, meaning that its data collection required actual user consent.

Facebook had appealed the rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year declined to review the case, allowing the 9th Circuit’s decision to stand.

“We are grateful to the Ninth Circuit for its watershed ruling, and to Facebook for negotiating this resolution in good faith,” David Straite, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs and partner at DiCello Levitt Gutzler, said in a statement. “This settlement not only repairs harm done to Facebook users but sets a precedent for the future disposition of such matters.”

The case is captioned “In re: Facebook Internet Tracking Litigation,” case no. 5:12-MD-2314-EJD, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division.

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