U.S. Federal Trade Commission Investigating Facebook For Privacy Violations

The federal government wants to know if Facebook violated terms of a consent decree signed by the social media giant in 2011 when it transferred private profile data to Cambridge Analytica.  If this personal user data was transferred by Facebook, and the company did not obtain consent, then there probably would be a clear violation of the law, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Because of this, The U.S. Federal Trade Commission will be launching an investigation into Facebook.  They will begin by sending a letter to the company, sources said.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the U.S. government agency that is responsible for making sure that private companies follow their own privacy policies.  Every company is required to have a privacy policy in accordance with federal law, and these policies must meet federal guidelines.  Although it is often assumed that companies follow their own policies, this is not always the case. And it is up to the FTC to make sure they do.

If Facebook violated the 2011 consent decree they could be subject to millions of dollars of fines imposed by the FTC under their legal authority.  In 2011 Facebook agreed to settle formal complaints that it was failing to adequately protect users’ privacy.  The company was also accused of not disclosing how user data would be used.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey have sent letters to Facebook as part of a joint investigation of the company which arose from the Cambridge Analytica news. Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen also said he would be doing his own probe of the matter.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who serves on the U. S. Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement saying that she has “grown increasingly concerned as we’re learning more and more about the manipulation of data, the harvesting of data from Facebook, the ads that were placed to sow the seeds of discord in this country.”

“I believe that Facebook, Twitter, the other social media platforms have a lot of questions to answer,” she said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has held hearings about Russia’s use of Facebook to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and now would like to hear testimony from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, said they have not yet made a decision about when or even if to formally request that Zuckerberg appear before his committee.

Facebook’s stock price has fallen by 10% over the past two days, representing a loss of $50 billion in market value.  If the company doesn’t address the concerns of government regulators and the public, then that number could increase significantly.  It remains to be seen what Facebook’s reaction will be to all of the negative publicity since CEO Zuckerberg has not been seen since the controversy began.