Facebook FTC Investigation Launched Over Privacy Rules

Federal consumer protection officials have launched an investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices, after recent discoveries that the social media site allowed data involving 50 million users to be exposed in ways that may have breached the companies binding privacy commitments. 

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) confirmed this week that it is formally investigating Facebook’s data practices, indicating that it is committed to using all of its available enforcement tools to protect the privacy of consumers.

The investigation was opened shortly after a whistleblower revealed that the data firm Cambridge Analytica was able to access information from as many as 50 million Facebook users, due to the flaws in data-sharing features from its 2014 and 2015 application programming interface (API).

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According to preliminary information, the data was collected through the use of Facebook Login, which is one of the many technology tools for software developers that allows Facebook users to simply log into a website or app using their Facebook account, making access more convenient for the end user. However, when logging into these types of website or apps, users are ultimately agreeing to share certain information with the app developers such as name, location, and email or friends list, among various other data for academic purposes.

The scandal surfaces around one of the apps called “thisisyourdigitallife,” created by researcher Aleksandr Krogan in 2015, who had 270,000 Facebook users log in to his app using their Facebook account, thus allowing him to gain access to all of their agreed upon data.

During this time, Facebook allowed app creators to collect information on users, such as political preference, photos, and other more personal information. Facebook also opened the door for app creates to gather similar data on that end user’s Facebook friends, which allowed Krogen to expand his user data collection to roughly 50 million people, although only 270,000 people consented.

Earlier this month Cambridge Analytica released a statement that the app developer, Krogen, released this trove of data to the data firm, which has sparked an outcry of whether Facebook’s privacy policies have been breached. According to Facebook’s response, Krogan violated the terms of service by sharing this data with a third party.

To date, the FTC and a bipartisan group of 37 states attorney generals have sent letters to Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, asking for details about the social media’s user privacy safeguards. Zuckerberg has reportedly agreed to testify before Congress and apologized to users.

Facebook previously settled a complaint with the FTC in 2011, for deceiving consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then allowing it to be shared and made public.

Facebook ultimately signed a consent decree in the 2011 settlement, indicating that the social media giant would live up to its updated privacy policies to its users, which some have claimed the recent events have violated that decree and could cost the company billions in daily fines.

The social media company faces at least two class action lawsuits over the recent revelations.


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