Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Facebook’s data-sharing partnerships with other major technology firms, according to an investigation by The New York Times. Citing two anonymous sources, The New York Times revealed that a grand jury had subpoenaed records from “at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices”.
The companies are among an estimated 150 that allegedly signed deals with Facebook to give them wide-ranging access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of users. These agreements, which were first revealed by The New York Times last year, allowed partners to access users’ data without their explicit consent. Some were even reportedly able to access personal information from users’ friends who believed they had shut down any sharing function.
Facebook has defended these deals, claiming that its partners were not able to access personal information without permission. It has since phased out the majority of these partnerships.
According to The New York Times, prosecutors from the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York are overseeing the grand jury investigation. The office has so far declined to comment or provide further information on the inquiry.
Facebook has found itself under intense scrutiny over its data-sharing practices since the Cambridge Analytica revelations broke in early 2018
Facebook has found itself under intense scrutiny over its data-sharing practices since the Cambridge Analytica revelations broke in early 2018. It is currently under investigation by the US Department of Justice for its role in the scandal, which saw the political-consulting firm harvest data from as many as 87 million Facebook users and utilise it to build tools to influence both the 2016 US presidential election and EU referendum campaigns.
The tech giant was also sued by Washington DC in December 2018 for allowing Cambridge Analytica to obtain personal information without consent. It remains under scrutiny from both the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In response to the latest reports, a Facebook spokesperson told The New Economy: “We are cooperating with investigators and take probes seriously. We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so.”
Among a plethora of investigations, this grand jury inquiry is simply the latest and is unlikely to be the last. It is also an indicator that US lawmakers intend to hold Facebook accountable for its actions through every possible legal and regulatory avenue, sending a powerful message to companies across the globe that may be tempted to mishandle data.
Although Facebook claims it has taken steps in the last year to tackle data misuse, even announcing that it would be pivoting to a privacy-based model, it is sorely mistaken if it believes these will be enough to pacify federal investigators. Rather, it must buckle up, take responsibility for its misgivings and accept the consequences, which are likely to be as damaging to its business model as its data exploits were for its users.