California reveals Facebook probe, says social media company
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[November 07, 2019]
By Diane Bartz and Paresh Dave
WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -
California revealed for the first time an 18-month investigation into
Facebook Inc's <FB.O> privacy practices and accused the social media
giant on Wednesday of hampering the probe by failing to turn over emails
from Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.
The revelation is the latest bad news for Facebook, which is already
facing an investigation by 47 U.S. states over concerns the company
engaged in anti-competitive practices, put consumer data at risk and
pushed up advertising prices.
Will Castleberry, Facebook's vice president of state and local policy,
said the company has "cooperated extensively with the state of
"To date we have provided thousands of pages of written responses and
hundreds of thousands of documents," he said.
A spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra quickly
shot back: "It appears we have different definitions of cooperation,"
noting there were 25 requests the company declined to answer or provide
documents to fulfill.
The company's stock price barely budged after the announcement of the
The Facebook state investigations are part of a larger landscape of
probes of big tech firms by the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal
Trade Commission, as well as the House of Representatives Judiciary
The Massachusetts attorney general launched a similar privacy focused
investigation into the company last year after the Cambridge Analytica
revelations surfaced, while Washington, D.C.'s attorney general
announced in December that he was suing Facebook over the scandal.
California's investigation began in 2018 as a probe into the Cambridge
Analytica scandal but "expanded over time to an investigation into
whether Facebook has violated California law, by among other things,
deceiving users and ignoring its own policies in allowing third parties
broad access to user data," the agency said in a court filing.
Facebook had inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million
users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge
Analytica. The consultancy's clients included President Donald Trump's
2016 election campaign.
Becerra's investigators asked the court to require Facebook to turn over
information about developers and other third parties' access to data and
changes in privacy settings for Facebook.
[to top of second column]
Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of
Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018.
"If Facebook had complied with our legitimate investigative
requests, we would not be making this announcement today. But we
must move our investigation forward. We are left with little
choice," Becerra told reporters.
Becerra's petition said the June 17 subpoena and interrogatories
followed Facebook’s initial responses and later news reports
"concerning other claims of wrongdoing by Facebook over users'
privacy. Facebook’s responses to this second subpoena and set of
interrogatories is patently deficient."
In particular, the attorney general's office pointed to a failure to
look at communications of Facebook founder and CEO Zuckerberg.
"Facebook has not searched the email of the company's chief
executive and chief operating officers for documents responsive to
the subpoena," according to the filing to a California state court
in San Francisco County.
The filing paints Facebook as a company that allowed app developers
to access non-public information about its users, which they used to
"build profiles on users, and sell those to third parties." This
includes apps affiliated with Cambridge Analytica.
"Questions have arisen as to what Facebook knew about this conduct,
why it failed to prevent app providers from misusing user data and
whether this behavior violated California law," the attorney
general's office said in the filing.
In July, Facebook agreed to pay a record-breaking $5 billion fine to
resolve a Federal Trade Commission probe into its privacy practices
and said it would will boost safeguards on user data.
(This story refiles to show in 5th paragraph that comment is from
spokeswoman for the California attorney general, not from the
(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Paresh Dave in San
Francisco; Additonal reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and
Katie Paul in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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