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Facebook users sue over personal data breach in Cambridge Analytica case

A Navy veteran has joined with two other Southern Californians to file a class-action lawsuit against Facebook and others in the wake of revelations that the personal data of an estimated 87 million users was exposed in an alleged effort to help steer the 2016 presidential campaign.

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles federal court Wednesday, one of several that have been filed around the country on similar claims.

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The lawsuit accuses Facebook of failing to protect the personal information of its users, despite assurances on its site that users "own all of the content and information" they post on Facebook, and that users "can control how it is shared" by using the platform's privacy settings.

"This is false and misleading," the lawsuit argues.

The scandal involving the data breach has been steadily unfolding in the international media over the past few weeks, bringing the social media giant under intense scrutiny.

Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining company, has admitted to obtaining Facebook information through Global Science Research, a company run by researcher Aleksandr Kogan.

GSR obtained the personal information on Facebook users and their Facebook friends through a personality test app in 2013, under the guise of academic research.

The information was then provided to Cambridge Analytica. The lawsuit claims the data was used to create profiles and target audiences for political ads in the 2016 presidential election — a claim the company has denied.

In a public statement released Wednesday, Cambridge Analytica said it obtained data for "no more than 30 million people." Further: "We did not use any GSR data in the work we did in the 2016 US presidential election," the company said.

"Our contract with GSR stated that all data must be obtained legally, and this contract is now a matter of public record. We took legal action against GSR when we found out they had breached this contract."

The company said it took steps to delete the user data from its servers.

A representative of Cambridge Analytica did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

Also named in the lawsuit is Kogan and former Trump advisor Stephen Bannon, who had part ownership of Cambridge Analytica and is accused of helping orchestrate the breach.

Jordan O'Hara of San Diego is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. He said he's been using Facebook and Instagram — owned by Facebook — for several years and around the 2016 election noticed increasingly right-wing propaganda in his search feed. O'Hara said that he is a registered Democrat and did not seek out such content, but thought that maybe his military background might have targeted him as a conservative, the lawsuit states.

He is joined by two others — Brent Collins of Newport Beach and Olivia Johnston of Culver City.

Two San Diego law firms are involved in representing the plaintiffs: Coast Law Group LLP and Blood Hurst & O'Reardon LLP.

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The lawsuit identifies the two potential classes as any Facebook user — nationwide or in California — whose data was obtained by Cambridge Analytica without authorization.

The lawsuit claims Facebook knew about the breach early on, in 2015, but was lackadaisical in doing anything about it. The suit also alleges Facebook had been warned about its vulnerability but did not properly strengthen privacy measures.

"We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people's information," Paul Grewal, a Facebook vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a statement. "We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens."

A Facebook spokeswoman said Thursday the company was looking into the lawsuit's claims and pointed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg's lengthy public apology and explanation posted March 21: "While this specific issue involving Cambridge Analytica should no longer happen with new apps today, that doesn't change what happened in the past," he wrote. "We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward."

Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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