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US investigates Facebook over privacy practices

Mark Zuckerberg faces multiple inquiries in the US and Europe over the leaking of private data for political purposes. Photo AP/Jeff Robertson

NEW YORK, AP – The US Federal Trade Commission is investigating Facebook’s privacy practices following a week of scandals including allegations a Trump-affiliated political consulting firm obtained data inappropriately from millions of the social network’s users.

Facebook’s stock, which already took a big hit last week, plunged as a result.

The social media giant said the company remains ‘strongly committed’ to protecting people’s information and that it welcomes the opportunity to answer the FTC’s questions.

Meanwhile, the chief law enforcement officers for 37 US states and territories are demanding to know when Facebook learned of the breach.

The officers say in a letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg that users’ trust in the social media platform is ‘broken’.

The attorneys-general are asking how Facebook monitored what these developers did with all the data they collected and whether Facebook had safeguards to prevent misuse. They also asked Zuckerberg for an update on how Facebook will allow users to more easily control the privacy of their accounts.

Cambridge Analytica, a political data-mining firm, is accused of lifting data from about 50 million Facebook users to influence voters in the 2016 election which saw Donald Trump win the US presidency.

News outlets reported on the FTC investigation last week, but the FTC had not confirmed it until Monday. Facebook reached a settlement with the FTC in 2011 offering privacy assurances.

The social networking firm’s privacy practices have come under fire after revelations that Cambridge Analytica obtained data on Facebook users, including information on friends of people who had downloaded a psychological quiz app, even though those friends had not given explicit consent on sharing.

Facebook is also facing questions over reports that it collected years of data on contact names, telephone numbers, call lengths and information about text messages from Android users.

Company officials said on Sunday that this information is uploaded to secure servers and comes only from people who gave explicit consent to allow it.

They added that the data is not sold or shared with users’ friends or outside apps. They say the data is used ‘to improve people’s experience across Facebook’ by helping to connect with others. But the company did not spell out exactly what it used the data for or why it needed it.

Investigations into Facebook

THE UNITED KINGDOM:

– The UK parliamentary media committee has summoned Zuckerberg to testify. The chairman, Damian Collins, said his panel has repeatedly asked Facebook how it uses data. He said Facebook officials “have been misleading to the committee”.

– Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is pursuing a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s servers. Although Cambridge Analytica said it is committed to helping the UK investigation, Denham’s office said the firm failed to meet a deadline to produce the information requested.

GERMANY:

– Germany’s Justice Minister Katarina Barley says she wants closer oversight of companies such as Facebook, following a meeting with executives about the abuse of users’ private data.

THE UNITED STATES:

– The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says he’s invited Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify at a hearing next month on data privacy. The April 10 hearing will cover how consumer data is collected, retained and distributed for commercial use. The Commerce Committee also sent letters requesting information from Facebook and Cambridge parent SCL Group.

– Chris Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee who became a whistleblower, has agreed to be interviewed by Democrats on the US House Intelligence Committee.

– The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether the company engaged in “unfair acts” that cause “substantial injury” to consumers.

– The attorneys-general for 37 US states and territories are seeking details on how Facebook monitored what app developers did with data collected on Facebook users and whether Facebook had safeguards to prevent misuse. They also asked Zuckerberg for an update on how Facebook will allow users to control the privacy of their accounts more easily.


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