WASHINGTON – California revealed for the first time an 18-month investigation into Facebook Inc’s privacy practices and accused the social media giant in a court filing on Wednesday of hampering the investigation.
Revelation of the probe is the latest bad news for Facebook, which is already under investigation by 47 U.S. states. Some states, particularly New York and Nebraska, have raised concerns that Facebook and other big tech companies engage in anti-competitive practices, expose consumer data to potential data theft and push up advertising prices.
Facebook had no immediate comment.
The Facebook investigations are part of a larger landscape of probes of big tech firms by the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
California’s investigation began in 2018 as a probe into the Cambridge Analytica scandal but “expanded over time to an investigation into whether Facebook has violated California law, by among other things, deceiving users and ignoring its own policies in allowing third parties broad access to user data,” the agency said in a court filing.
Facebook had inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The consultancy’s clients included President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s investigators asked the court to require Facebook to turn over information about developers and other third parties’ access to data and changes in privacy settings for Facebook.
“If Facebook had complied with our legitimate investigative requests, we would not be making this announcement today. But we must move our investigation forward. We are left with little choice,” Becerra told reporters.
Becerra’s petition said the June 17 subpoena and interrogatories followed Facebook’s initial responses and later news reports “concerning other claims of wrongdoing by Facebook over users’ privacy. Facebook’s responses to this second subpoena and set of interrogatories is patently deficient.”
In particular, the attorney general’s office pointed to a failure to look at communications of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“Facebook has not searched the email of the company’s chief executive and chief operating officers for documents responsive to the subpoena,” according to the filing to a California state court in San Francisco county.
The filing paints Facebook as a company that allowed app developers to access nonpublic information about its users, which they used to “build profiles on users, and sell those to third parties.” This includes apps affiliated with Cambridge Analytica.
“Questions have arisen as to what Facebook knew about this conduct, why it failed to prevent app providers from misusing user data and whether this behavior violated California law,” the attorney general’s office said in the filing.
In July, Facebook agreed to pay a record-breaking $5 billion fine to resolve a Federal Trade Commission probe into its privacy practices and said it would will boost safeguards on user data.
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