Facebook’s headaches over the way Cambridge Analytica obtained and exploited user profiles is far from over because the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has launched an investigation into the social network’s privacy practices.
Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Tom Pahl said,
The FTC is firmly and fully committed to using all of its tools to protect the privacy of consumers. Foremost among these tools is enforcement action against companies that fail to honor their privacy promises, including to comply with Privacy Shield, or that engage in unfair acts that cause substantial injury to consumers in violation of the FTC Act. Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook. Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices.
The announcement follows media reports that Cambridge Analytica obtained and used millions of Facebook profiles as part of its campaign strategy for Donald Trump in the last U.S. President election. Facebook said the user profiles were harvested in violation of its terms of service and has been ramping up its public apologies to help with damage control.
The user profiles were harvested in 2013 through a personality quiz app that grabbed not only with quiz taker’s profile, but the profiles of all their friends, too. That netted somewhere between 30 million and 50 million accounts.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said it found out about the data harvesting and sharing in 2015. Facebook demanded the all Cambridge Analytica, along with the personality app developer Aleksandr Kogan, delete all improperly collected data.
The company didn’t, however, notify the public of what happened and apparently Cambridge Analytica didn’t comply with Facebook’s demand. The company claims it did comply, and Zuckerberg says Facebook was asked to provide some form of “formal certification.”
Since Cambridge Analytica was able to use the profile data in its campaign strategy work, it seems it was still available in some form, regardless of what the company says.
Once the Cambridge Analytica news broke, Facebook was hit with negative press and public backlash with users deleting their accounts. The #deletefacebook hash tag took off, consumer trust in Facebook tanked, and even Apple CEO Tim Cook is calling for federal regulations over personal data in social networks.
Facebook has a reputation for playing fast and loose with user’s personal information, and now it seems the FTC has had enough. There aren’t many details about the investigation, although we know it was triggered by the Cambridge Analytica incident and it focuses on Facebook’s privacy practices.
It’s a safe bet the FTC has some very serious questions, and Facebook won’t likely be comfortable giving up at least some of its answers.