A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing set for Wednesday was expected to focus on the privacy scandal that has rocked Facebook. The featured witness was former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie, who was scheduled to be joined by two experts.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was on Capitol Hill last month, won’t be there. But on Monday, Facebook announced that it had suspended 200 software applications that—like the one involving Cambridge Analytica—might have stolen the personal information of millions of users.
Richard Fields of Fields PLLC is among the dozens of plaintiffs lawyers who have filed class actions against Facebook over the scandal. He was founder and CEO of Juridica Asset Management Ltd., managing $600 million in litigation funds, before starting his law firm, which also has sued over opioids. I talked to him about Wednesday’s hearing and its potential impact on the Facebook litigation.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What do you hope to learn from Wednesday’s hearing?
A: We’ll be watching tomorrow to see to what extent there’s discussion of the breadth and scope of this problem with Facebook. This could be the largest data breach in history. There were over 10,000 applications operating on the Facebook platform, and it appears as if they may just be scratching the surface of the problem with the Cambridge Analytica problem.
Q: What do the revelations mean for the class actions that have been filed?
A: It’s difficult to say at this point. What really troubles me is Facebook has not said whether it intends to notify people whether it’s discovered additional application developers. We could have different classes, we could be adding additional defendants in terms of application developers, we could have broader claims against Facebook. But we don’t know yet.
Q: Cambridge Analytica began bankruptcy proceedings earlier this month in the United Kingdom. What does that mean for the lawsuits?
A: One thing that ought to be looked at is the role of the board of Cambridge Analytica and the senior management team. That’s something that the class action lawyers as a group will almost certainly be focused on. The bankruptcy court could be a place where a lot of that information is sought and where facts turned up in the bankruptcy itself could be challenged. One thing we’ll be looking at is, was this bankruptcy filed in good faith? There was bad behavior from Cambridge Analytica. And it was on a global scale. There are multiple investigations going on in the U.K.
Q: Could a bankruptcy freeze the litigation?
A: It’s not going to freeze the litigation against Facebook. That’s highly unlikely. I’m not saying Facebook might not make that argument, but it’s highly unlikely.
Q: Switching gears, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster last week ordered lawyers with opioid cases to disclose outside litigation financing in camera. When asked which cases he might have been referring to, some lawyers floated your name. Have you gotten litigation financing for your opioid case, which was brought on behalf of the Cherokee Nation?
A: I never comment on client fee arrangements. I just don’t do that. That’s confidential and privileged. I was in the litigation funding industry for many years, and was one of the early players in this space. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone to ask that question. But I don’t answer that question. There are plenty of other lawyers in the MDL who have associations with funding groups. I have no idea why Judge Polster issued this order. I do think the order is well balanced and reasonable, and a model for other federal courts concerned about the issue.