37 State Attorneys General Are Now Demanding Answers From Facebook

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Facebook’s legal troubles continue to grow in number and intensity. Over recent days we have reported that: 

  1. Facebook is being sued in U.S. by its users over improper data harvesting,
  2. The FTC Opened an investigation into Facebook’s violation of a 2011 consent decree, and
  3. Facebook CEO Zuckerberg was invited to testify at a U.S. Senate hearing.

And now it has been reported that the Attorneys General of 37 states have joined forces to investigate Facebook.

The 37 state attorneys general issued a statement saying they have sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “demanding answers…about the company’s business practices and privacy protections.”

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“Businesses like Facebook must comply with the law when it comes to how they use their customers’ personal data,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is leading the effort, said in the public statement. “State Attorneys General have an important role to play in holding them accountable and I’m proud to partner with so many of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle in this effort.”

“As a bipartisan group of Attorneys General, we care deeply about the privacy of our constituents personal information,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum also said in the statement announcing the letter.

“Just because they use Facebook and signup for apps does not mean consumers have signed a lifetime agreement to give up their privacy. We have asked Facebook several important questions and we expect clear answers from them. We must be assured that a breach or ‘leak’ of this nature will not happen again.”

In an effort at damage control Facebook took out full-page ads on Sunday in various British and American newspapers.  For the first time Facebook actually apologized for their “breach of trust.”

“You may have heard about a quiz app built by a university researcher that leaked Facebook data of millions of people in 2014,” said the ads signed by Zuckerberg. “This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time. We’re now taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

The press release from Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro recites the list of questions the state AG’s have for Facebook, as shown below:

“The letter to Zuckerberg, initiated by Attorney General Shapiro and joined by a bipartisan coalition of Attorneys General, raises a series of questions about the social networking site’s policies and practices, including:

  • Were those terms of service clear and understandable?
  • How did Facebook monitor what these developers did with all the data that they collected?
  • What type of controls did Facebook have over the data given to developers?
  • Did Facebook have protective safeguards in place, including audits, to ensure developers were not misusing the Facebook user’s data?
  • How many users in the states of the signatory Attorneys General were impacted?
  • When did Facebook learn of this breach of privacy protections?
  • During this timeframe, what other third party “research” applications were also able to access the data of unsuspecting Facebook users?

The Attorneys General write in the letter: “Facebook apparently contends that this incident of harvesting tens of millions of profiles was not the result of a technical data breach; however, the reports allege that Facebook gave away the personal data of users who never authorized these developers to obtain it, and relied on terms of service and settings that were confusing and perhaps misleading to its users.”

As concerned citizens we can only hope that Facebook will be held accountable for its privacy violations in the past and will be forced to make changes in the future in order assure that we do not have firms like Cambridge Analytica misusing our personal data in order to illegally influence the outcome of our elections.