Federal Trade Commission Confirms Facebook Probe

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Monday it is investigating the privacy controls of social media giant Facebook in the aftermath of reports that the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users was compromised by the British voter profiling firm Cambridge Analytica.

The consumer agency’s announcement sent Facebook’s stock price down another 2 percent, after a 14 percent plunge last week cut the company’s market value by $90 billion.

The FTC normally does not announce its investigations, but confirmed the probe after numerous news accounts last week said it had been opened.

Acting consumer protection chief 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 adherence to a joint U.S.-European privacy accord, “or that engage in unfair acts that cause substantial injury to consumers in violation” of U.S. consumer protections.

Facebook’s privacy practices are being questioned on both sides of the Atlantic after revelations that Cambridge Analytica got the cache of information about Facebook users from British researcher Alexsandr Kogan, who had been authorized by Facebook to collect the data as part of an academic study.

Kogan developed an app on which 270,000 Facebook users supplied information about themselves. In all, because of extensive links of friends and associates to the 270,000 Facebook users, 50 million Facebook users may have had their personal data compromised.

Britain has opened an investigation of Cambridge Analytica and seized data from its London headquarters.

German Justice Minister Katarina Barley met Monday with Facebook officials, later calling for stricter regulation and tougher penalties for companies like Facebook.

“Facebook admitted abuses and excesses in the past and gave assurances that measures since taken mean they can’t happen again,” she said. “But promises aren’t enough. In the future we will have to regulate companies like Facebook much more strictly.”

Facebook said Monday it remains “strongly committed” to protecting people’s information and would answer the FTC’s questions.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Sunday apologized to Facebook users in full-page ads in nine British and U.S. for the massive “breach of trust” by the company.

Zuckerberg did not mention Cambridge Analytica, which was paid $6 million by U.S. President Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign for the White House to develop voter profiles.

Zuckerberg said in the ads, “This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time” when Kogan passed on the Facebook data to Cambridge Analytica.”We’re now taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“We have a responsibility to protect your information,” Zuckerberg said. “If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.”


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