Federal Trade Commission ‘investigating Facebook after Cambridge Analytica scandal’

Jeremy B White
Facebook has faced calls to account for its privacy rules: REUTERS/Toby Melville

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reportedly opened an investigation into Facebook as the social media company meets deepening scrutiny over its privacy rules.

Elected officials have raised alarms about the Facebook's safeguards in response to reports that a consulting firm employed by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Cambridge Analytica, obtained data on some 50 million users.

Against that backdrop, the FTC was said to be probing if Facebook had violated the terms of a 2011 settlement reached after the FTC accused Facebook of misleading consumers about keeping their data private.

A consent decree growing out of that agreement imposed new rules on how Facebook secures users’ consent when overriding privacy settings. It also barred the company from “making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers' personal information”, according to the FTC.

A spokesman declined to comment on whether the FTC was investigating.

“We take any allegations of violations of our consent decrees very seriously as we did in 2012 in a privacy case involving Google“, the spokesman said.

While she did not directly confirm if an investigation was underway, FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny said in a statement that the FTC “takes the allegations that the data of millions of people were used without proper authorization very seriously.

“The allegations also highlight the limited rights Americans have to their data”, Ms McSweey said. “Consumers need stronger protections for the digital age such as comprehensive data security and privacy laws, transparency and accountability for data brokers, and rights to and control over their data”.

Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer Rob Sherman said in a statement that “We remain strongly committed to protecting people’s information”.

“We appreciate the opportunity to answer questions the FTC may have”, Mr Sherman said.

Facebook has said around 270,000 users allowed access to information about their online activity when they downloaded an app designed by a professor named Aleksandr Kogan.

“People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked”, Facebook has said

Mr Kogan subsequently violated the site’s policies by passing that information to Cambridge Analytica and the data firm lied about deleting the data, Facebook has said. The site has suspended Cambridge Analytica.

The number of affected users ballooned to some 50 million because Mr Kogan’s app also pulled in information about users’ friends, according to reports.