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Facebook Facing Criminal Probe Over Data Sharing

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. (tua ulamac / Flickr Creative Commons)

Last October, Mark Zuckerberg was still optimistic. “We have great products here that people love,” the Facebook founder said during an earnings call. The social network’s year, however, hasn’t been so rosy. As Vox explained in December, Facebook “has found itself at the center of a growing storm over a wide array of issues, ranging from data privacy to Russian meddling to fake news,” and despite multiple apologies, “the scandals keep coming.”

In June, The New York Times reported that Facebook entered into data-sharing partnerships with such smartphone makers as Apple and Samsung, selling access to Facebook users’ data, often without their knowledge or consent. This week, the Times reports, those partnerships are under criminal investigation, as a New York grand jury subpoenaed records from at least two of the 150 companies with whom Facebook had agreements, according to sources who requested anonymity.

The investigation is being overseen by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. It’s unclear when the investigation began, as is the specific focus.

Facebook is already contending with government investigations. As The Washington Post reported in February, Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission are negotiating a multibillion-dollar fine that would settle an investigation into privacy breaches. If imposed, it would be the largest fine in FTC history.

“If talks break down,the FTC could take the matter to court in what would likely be a bruising legal fight,” the Post reported.

As the Post pointed out, Facebook is also fighting a suit by the attorney general of Washington, D.C., that “contends Facebook misled its users about its data-collection practices.”

The social media giant is also facing scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and is under investigation by the Justice Department’s securities unit for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the voter-data company received personal information from 87 million people. That case is ongoing; a former employee told the Times he had been questioned in February.

Representatives from the Eastern District and the Justice Department declined to comment to the Times on the recent subpoenas.

Last week, Zuckerberg announced in a blog post that his company will shift its focus to encrypted posts and private messaging rather than public sharing. “I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms,” he said, adding that he is committed to building “a simpler platform that’s focused on privacy first.”

In a statement regarding the subpoenas, a Facebook representative told the Times, “We are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously,” adding, “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so.”

Ilana Novick
Blogger / Editorial Assistant

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