Investigations into Facebook’s data handling keep piling up. Yesterday, The New York Times reported about the federal prosecutors being in the midst of a criminal investigation into the data deals Facebook arranged with tech companies. It’s not known when the investigation began or what the focus is, but a New York grand jury reportedly used subpoenas to obtain records from two or more “prominent makers of smartphones.” The deals included heavyweights like Apple, Microsoft and Sony. The grand jury inquiry was on behalf of the US attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York.
Facebook had data-sharing arrangements with more than 150 companies, according to a December report in the New York Times. The deals helped Facebook gain more users, and its partners were able to access user data without obtaining consent. Many of the partnerships ended years ago, but the deals with Amazon and Apple were ongoing at the time of the story.
These deals typically revolved around making it easier to fill out contacts, share content and otherwise integrate Facebook with devices and websites. There’s a concern that these deals weren’t always transparent to everyday users. Microsoft’s Bing deal mapped the friends of Facebook users without explicit permission.
Privacy advocates said the partnerships seemed to violate a 2011 consent agreement between Facebook and the F.T.C., stemming from allegations that the company had shared data in ways that deceived consumers. F.T.C. officials, who spent the past year investigating whether Facebook violated the 2011 agreement, are now weighing the sharing deals as they negotiate a possible multibillion-dollar fine which would be the largest penalty ever imposed by any trader.
To add to the worry, the 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren proposed last week that Facebook and other big tech giants should be broken up. That was the latest in a rising tide of calls for regulation and antitrust action against Silicon Valley.
Repeatedly in the past couple of years we have seen Facebook facing a widening inquiry from the US federal government as well as from governments of other nations. The federal agencies and the Department of Justice have been looking into how the political-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica obtained the personal data of up to 87 million Americans.
The company has been juggling a number of scandals and investigations since then. Currently it is also facing a longest outage of its services and applications due to an unknown technical issue since yesterday.
Facebook confirmed the investigations in a statement.
“We are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously,” a Facebook spokesman told the Times on Wednesday. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so.”
Read the detailed coverage on the NY Times blog.