California announces probe of Facebook privacy practices

Andrew Cummings
November 7, 2019

State attorney general Xavier Becerra said that a filing in a San Francisco court calls on a judge to compel Facebook to "comply adequately" with an outstanding subpoena and sets of questions handed to the company in June.

He then notes the numerous investigations into Facebook across the world from "Congress, European, and USA regulators at the state and federal level", and cites the recent $5bn agreement that Facebook struck with the FTC over its privacy failings.

Will Castleberry, Facebook's vice president of state and local policy, refuted the attorney general's statements in an email sent to NPR from a spokesperson. "Our work must move forward".

Becerra alleges that Facebook failed to answer specific questions about privacy, including whether outside developers were able to collect information about users who had configured their privacy settings to prevent data sharing.

"If Facebook had complied with our legitimate investigative requests, we would not be making this announcement today", Beccera said.

"Facebook is not just continuing to drag its feet in response to the Attorney General's investigation, it is failing to comply with lawfully issued subpoenas and interrogatories", Becerra's office said in a petition filed with San Francisco Superior Court.

According to the filing, Facebook took a year to fully respond to an initial June 2018 subpoena related to the scandal in which Cambridge Analytica obtained the data of more than 50 million Facebook users - and used that data to influence political outcomes in the United States in 2016.

If the court determines Facebook has indeed not been responsive to the attorney general's investigation, it can force the company to turn these documents over to investigators. It provided no answers to 19 out of 27 written interrogatories, provided a partial response to six, and produced no documents in response to six document requests.

The state says it demanded information from the social media giant in June for an investigation launched past year and that the company's response has been "patently deficient".

The investigation, which began in 2018 in response to the revelations that Cambridge Analytica had acquired millions of Facebook users' private data without their knowledge or consent, has expanded to include the platform's sharing of user data with all third party companies.

The Federal Trade Commission in July fined Facebook $5 billion, a record for the consumer protection agency, over the company's breaches of user privacy in 2014 and 2015.

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