California Turns the Heat on Facebook Over Privacy Practices

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – For more than a year, the California Department of Justice has been investigating Facebook’s privacy practices, trying to determine whether it violated California law in granting third parties broad access to user data against their wishes.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sits for an Oct. 10, 2018, interview with The Associated Press, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

On Wednesday, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced he is taking Facebook to court, petitioning a state judge to force the company to respond to subpoenas for records his office requested this past June.

“We’ve requested information related to communications among executives regarding any consideration of the need to audit developers’ access to user data, third party-granted expanded access to user data, the relationship between ad spending and access to user data, significant privacy-related news stories and the introduction of new privacy features,” Becerra said told reporters at a press conference in San Francisco. “Facebook, however, has not been fully responsive.”

He said Facebook has failed to produce or even look for relevant documents in the emails of CEO Mark Zuckerberg or Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Becerra noted Facebook took over a year to respond to a request for documents related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which it allowed the British consulting firm to obtain the personal information of about 50 million Facebook users without their authorization. The firm then used that data to target political ads to influence both the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the 2016 U.S. election.

Becerra’s office has since sent Facebook another subpoena and set of interrogatories related to allegations that Facebook “violated California law by deceiving users and misrepresenting its privacy practices.” He said its response has been “patently inadequate.”

“We are left with little choice but to seek a court order,” Becerra said. “Today we are asking the court to require Facebook to respond to these legitimate legal requests.”

In addition to communications from executives, Becerra’s office seeks transcripts of depositions from current and former Facebook employees in Facebook’s legal spat with defunct bikini pic-sharing app Six4Three. In the lawsuit, Six4Three claims Facebook cut its access to user data in an anticompetitive move to squash potential competition while publicly framing it as protecting user privacy.

The subpoena documents appear to show that Becerra’s office is interested in whether Facebook treats user data as a bargaining chip with business partners and rivals.

Facebook denied its unresponsiveness in an emailed statement.

“We have cooperated extensively with the state of California’s investigation. To date we have provided thousands of pages of written responses and hundreds of thousands of documents,” said Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president of state and local policy.

%d bloggers like this: