A PYMNTS Company

The Case for Investigating Facebook

 |  March 19, 2019

By David N. Cicilline

A year ago, the world learned that Facebook allowed a political consulting company called Cambridge Analytica to exploit the personal information of up to 87 million users, to obtain data that would help the company’s clients “fight a culture war” in America.

Since then, a torrent of reports has revealed that the Cambridge Analytica scandal was part of a much broader pattern of misconduct by Facebook.

It has paid teenagers to spy on their behavior, even asking users “to screenshot their Amazon order history page,” according to the website TechCrunch. The company has secretly collected highly sensitive data through the back doors of other apps, such as ovulation trackers, to target ads at users “even if no Facebook account is used to log in and if the end user isn’t a Facebook member,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

And in its pursuit of dominance, Facebook gave at least 60 device makers direct access to its users’ data. Those actions are under criminal investigation, The Times reported last week. Facebook has also engaged in campaigns to obstruct congressional oversight and to smear and discredit critics — tactics reminiscent of the big tobacco playbook.

After each misdeed becomes public, Facebook alternates between denial, hollow promises and apology campaigns.

But nothing changes. That’s why, as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, I am calling for an investigation into whether Facebook’s conduct has violated antitrust laws.

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Federal Trade Commission has confirmed that it is investigating Facebook to determine whether it violated a consent order it entered into with the commission in 2011.

While we await the outcome of the commission’s investigation, other enforcement agencies and government authorities have already taken action. The attorney general for the District of Columbia filed a complaint months ago. German antitrust authorities issued an order finding that Facebook abused its dominance and limiting Facebook’s data collection practices. And an investigation by the British Parliament compared Facebook to a company of “digital gangsters” that considers itself “ahead of and beyond the law.”

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