Woes Mount for Facebook Amid Data-Mining Scandal

A Facebook logo displayed Jan. 17, 2017 at a start-up companies gathering at Paris’ Station F, in Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

(CN) – The Cambridge Analytica scandal fallout continues to rain down on Facebook, with the Federal Trade Commission saying it will investigate and a group of state attorneys general demanding answers about the company’s privacy-protection protocol.

Tom Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, issued a statement Monday morning saying the agency has opened an investigation into whether Facebook upheld privacy promises it made to its users.

“The FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook,” Pahl said.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding answers to a series of outstanding questions about the scandal.

“Facebook apparently contends that this incident of harvesting tens of millions of profiles was not the result of a technical data breach; however, the reports allege that Facebook allowed third parties to obtain personal data of users who never authorized it and relied on terms of service and settings that were confusing and perhaps misleading to its users,” the association said in a Monday letter signed by 36 state attorneys general.

Facebook has admitted that Aleksandr Kogan, a third-party developer who worked for Cambridge University, accessed the personal information of about 50 million Facebook users who used a personality quiz app.

While about 300,000 people agreed to take the quiz, the app gave Kogan access to users’ friend networks – prompting the questions about privacy protection from state law enforcement officers and federal agencies.

Christopher Wylie, the co-founder of Cambridge Analytica – a data analysis and mining firm that provides targeted voter demographics for electoral campaigns – claims the firm bought psychological information from Kogan.

The firm was hired by President Donald Trump and used the obtained psychological information to sway voters toward Trump, Wylie told The Guardian. Profiles of Facebook users were also used in the Brexit campaign, in which United Kingdom voters ultimately approved leaving the European Union.

Cambridge Analytica denies it used the data in either campaign, but suspended CEO Alexander Nix after video of him appearing to bribe public officials emerged early last week.

Kogan claims to be a scapegoat.

Facebook so far faces two lawsuits, filed last week in federal court in California. Another suit was filed against the social media giant in Cook County, Illinois, on Monday. Cook County is home to the city of Chicago and is the second most populous county in the United States.

The suit filed by Kimberly Foxx, the state attorney for Cook County, claims Facebook failed to protect the privacy of its users.

“This lawsuit seeks to right the wrongs created by Cambridge Analytica’s and Facebook’s blatant disregard and misuse of sensitive, personal data belonging to the people of the state of Illinois,” Foxx says.

Facebook user Lauren Price says in her lawsuit filed last week that the company failed to protect her data and unwittingly allowed her to be used as a pawn in a game of electoral psychological warfare.

And investors accused Facebook of misleading users and investors regarding its privacy policy. Facebook shares have taken a hit since the scandal broke, dropping 13 percent in March and another 2.3 percent on Monday.

The attorneys general focused on data protection in particular, asking whether Facebook had clearly articulated its privacy policies.

“Were those terms of service clear and understandable, or buried in boilerplate where few users would even read them?” the attorneys general asked in their letter. “How did Facebook monitor what these developers did with all the data that they collected?”

They also demanded to know if Facebook conducted audits of third-party app developers after learning the information of 50 million users was compromised and whether other third-party app developers were similarly able to access data.

“We need to understand Facebook’s policies and procedures in light of the reported misuse of data by developers,” the attorneys general wrote.

Signatories included attorneys general from Illinois, California, New York, Alabama and Ohio.

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