FTC Launches Investigation into Facebook’s Privacy Practices

FTC Facebook privacy investigation

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.

FTC Facebook privacy investigation
Facebook facing FTC investigation over 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.

One thought on “FTC Launches Investigation into Facebook’s Privacy Practices

  • FTC will never let a chance go by, to make a political grab for more territory. Resist this opportunism, even if there’s a possibility it might do some good. Tim Cook had a better idea – make proper laws.

    Carol Davidsen of Rentrak confirmed that the Obama campaign obtained the Social graph of the entire USA from Facebook, to influence voters, under the same rules. Nobody freaked out about that, and Cambridge Analytica’s scumbagery pales into insignificance compared to such an egregious usurpation of privacy.

    Make no mistake, this is a DNC campaign pure and simple, to bring Facebook to heel.

    Somebody who doesn’t work for Cambridge Analytica, didn’t work for Cambridge Analytica when they had dealings with the Trump campaign, speculates (their own words) “I can’t say what might have happened” between Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign… and the world loses its mind. There needs to be some responsible reporting here. This does not meet the definition for whistle blowing. There are NO facts here, only speculation.

    There is actually no story here, other than Obama’s offence being significantly greater than any two-bit scumbag operation. But you won’t read that ANYWHERE. Davidsen actually asserts that it was the Obama campaign’s transgression that actually prompted Facebook to change the rules.

    I have no love for Facebook and delight in people deleting their accounts, but when they realise the outrage is build on foundations of quicksand, they’ll be back.

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