On August 25 2023, accounts across social media platforms discussed a Facebook settlement and called attention to the fact that a deadline was approaching for users to submit a claim:
Typically, posts focused on the Facebook settlement claim deadline of August 25 2023 — but they rarely explained what any of it was about.
The “Facebook Settlement”
Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc (META.O) has agreed to pay $725 million to resolve a class-action lawsuit accusing the social media giant of allowing third parties, including Cambridge Analytica, to access users’ personal information.
The proposed settlement, which was disclosed in a court filing late on Thursday [December 22 2022], would resolve a long-running lawsuit prompted by revelations in 2018 that Facebook had allowed the British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to access data of as many as 87 million users.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs called the proposed settlement the largest to ever be achieved in a U.S. data privacy class action and the most that Meta has ever paid to resolve a class action lawsuit.
On April 20 2023, the New York Times also covered the settlement:
The long-running lawsuit was filed after revelations in 2018 that Cambridge Analytica used private information from the Facebook profiles of millions of users without their permission in one of the largest data leaks in Facebook’s history. The breach gave Cambridge Analytica access to the social media activity of millions of Facebook users in the United States to build voter profiles and allowed the company to aid former President Donald J. Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Authorized claimants will be assigned one point for each month in which they had an activated Facebook account. The settlement administrator will then add up the total points assigned to all claimants and divide that number by the net settlement amount, $725 million minus administrative costs and other fees, to determine the amount of money available for each point. Each claimant will receive that amount multiplied by the number of points they were assigned, according to the settlement website.
On April 21 2023, ABC News speculated that eligible people were unlikely to receive a significant sum. ABC News also reported that the settlement would require a “final approval” in September 2023:
… we all hear $725 million and our ears perk up because that sounds like a lot of money. But the fact is, when you divvy it up amongst millions and millions of people, it’s not that much money anymore. So the amount of money that you might get from this claim is still unknown, because it’s going to depend on a couple of things: How many people actually submit a claim and then how long you had your Facebook account for given the years that, you know, make you eligible.
So I guess we should let folks know that you’re only eligible if you had an active Facebook account sometime between May of 2007 and December of 2022. You don’t have to have had it for all that time, just some of that time. You have until August 25 to submit a claim. You can do that right online. You have to go to a website. It’s facebookuserprivacysettlement.com. It’s long. You have to write it all out. Again, don’t expect the money super soon. It has to get final approval from a judge in early September . But at some point at the end of this year or next, your money should be coming to you.
In late April 2023, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California published “Facebook Privacy Settlement Information,” directing people to the website to file a claim:
A settlement has been reached between plaintiffs and defendant Facebook in a class action lawsuit pending in this court (In re: Facebook, Inc. Consumer Privacy User Profile Litigation, Case No. 3:18-md-02843-VC).
The parties have established a website explaining who is eligible to make a claim and how to do so. That website is https://www.facebookuserprivacysettlement.com/.
The court cannot answer any questions about eligibility for a claim. Please refer to the parties’ website for any questions about the settlement.
Reuters published a copy of the settlement agreement, dated December 22 2022 [PDF].
Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Scandal
In March 2018, information about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s theft of personal data entered the news cycle. In an article the next month, the New York Times summarized a then-coalescing data scandal:
In March , The New York Times, working with The Observer of London and The Guardian, obtained a cache of documents from inside Cambridge Analytica, the data firm principally owned by the right-wing donor Robert Mercer. The documents proved that the firm, where the former Trump aide Stephen K. Bannon was a board member, used data improperly obtained from Facebook to build voter profiles. The news put Cambridge under investigation and thrust Facebook into its biggest crisis ever.
A May 2 2018 Vox.com piece, “The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, explained with a simple diagram,” later reported:
Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm that did work for the Trump campaign and harvested raw data from up to 87 million Facebook profiles, is shutting down.
There is a complicated web of relationships that explains how the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook are tied together …
Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign.
But the more important part of this story is how Cambridge Analytica got its data from Facebook. And according to a former Cambridge Analytica employee, the firm got it through researcher Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian American who worked at the University of Cambridge.
On March 17 2019, Wired published a lengthy article examining the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal:
… Zuckerberg couldn’t see what was right in front of him—and neither could the rest of the world, really—until March 17, 2018, when a pink-haired whistleblower named Christopher Wylie told The New York Times and The Guardian/Observer about a firm called Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica had purchased Facebook data on tens of millions of Americans without their knowledge to build a “psychological warfare tool,” which it unleashed on US voters to help elect Donald Trump as president. Just before the news broke, Facebook banned Wylie, Cambridge Analytica, its parent company SCL, and Aleksandr Kogan, the researcher who collected the data, from the platform. But those moves came years too late and couldn’t stem the outrage of users, lawmakers, privacy advocates, and media pundits. Immediately, Facebook’s stock price fell and boycotts began. Zuckerberg was called to testify before Congress, and a year of contentious international debates about the privacy rights of consumers online commenced. On [March 15 2019], Kogan filed a defamation lawsuit against Facebook.
Wylie’s words caught fire, even though much of what he said was already a matter of public record. In 2013, two University of Cambridge researchers published a paper explaining how they could predict people’s personalities and other sensitive details from their freely accessible Facebook likes. These predictions, the researchers warned, could “pose a threat to an individual’s well-being, freedom, or even life.” Cambridge Analytica’s predictions were based largely on this research. Two years later, in 2015, a Guardian writer named Harry Davies reported that Cambridge Analytica had collected data on millions of American Facebook users without their permission, and used their likes to create personality profiles for the 2016 US election. However, in the heat of the primaries, with so many polls, news stories, and tweets to dissect, most of America paid no attention.
Facebook Settlement: How to Apply, Eligibility, and the Deadline
As indicated on the United States District Court website, information about the Facebook settlement was available on the website FacebookUserPrivacySettlement.com.
Prominent text at the top of the page provided its eligibility parameters:
If you were a Facebook user in the United States between May 24, 2007, and December 22, 2022, inclusive, you may be eligible for a cash payment from a Class Action Settlement.
Directly under that, the final date to apply (August 25 2023) was among “Important Dates”:
July 26, 2023
July 26, 2023
August 25, 2023
September 7, 2023 at 1:00 PM PDT
Final Approval Hearing
The form to file a claim is here, and it was neither long nor difficult to complete.
On August 25 2023, a number of social media posts warned about the deadline for a “Facebook settlement” claim. In December 2022, Facebook agreed to pay a $725 million settlement to be divided among eligible users. The settlement involved Facebook’s handling of data regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The claims were real, and August 25 2023 was the final day to submit a claim.