California’s attorney general said on Wednesday that Facebook had failed to co-operate with an investigation into alleged privacy violations, publicly revealing yet another regulatory probe into the group.
Xavier Becerra, attorney-general, said that the state launched an investigation into the social media company 18 months ago “relating to privacy, disclosures and third party access to user data”.
The agency made initial inquiries last year about the “management of its relationship” with Cambridge Analytica, the now defunct political consultancy that worked for the 2016 Trump campaign and obtained the personal data of some 87m Facebook users via a third party. Facebook was “slow” to respond to these, taking more than a year to hand over requested documents, he said.
However, Facebook did not sufficiently comply with further requests for information made in June this year, including about its privacy settings and which third party apps had access to data despite users opting to restrict the sharing of that information, Mr Becerra said.
The social network also failed to “provide, or even search for” requested communications between executives such as Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, chief marketing officer, Mr Becerra added.
“Facebook’s response to the . . . request for information was patently inadequate,” he told a press conference. “We are left with little choice but to seek a court order [from the San Francisco Superior Court] compelling Facebook to faithfully comply with our duly authorised subpoenas.”
In July this year, Facebook agreed to pay a record $5bn settlement to the US Federal Trade Commission over privacy violations and to overhaul its privacy practices, following an investigation sparked by the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
But Facebook still faces a number of privacy and antitrust investigations in the US and the EU. These include further competition probes by the FTC, 47 state attorneys-general, and Congress.
Arguments that regulators are exploring include that Facebook allegedly used the promise of high standards of privacy — which it failed to live up to — to gain a monopoly, and that Facebook became so ubiquitous that consumers were forced to accept lax privacy practices.
In response to the California case, Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice-president of state and local policy, said on Wednesday: “We have co-operated 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.”
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