US: Grand jury looking into Facebook’s data sharing

Facebook is the subject of a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors over the data deals it inked with some of the biggest technology companies, reported The New York Times.

Citing two people familiar with a request made by a grand jury in New York, the paper reported the grand jury has subpoenaed records from two makers of smartphones and other devices. Both of the companies had inked partnerships with Facebook in which they got access to the data on hundreds of millions of Facebook users. All told, 150 companies reached data-sharing deals with Facebook including Amazon, Apple, Sony, and Microsoft, noted the report. Under the agreements, the companies could see users’ friends and other data, in some cases without the users knowing it or consenting to it.  Facebook has been working to remove the partnerships during the past two years, reported The New York Times. In a statement to the paper, the social media giant said it’s cooperating with investigators. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so,” a Facebook spokesperson told the NYT.

The grand jury investigation is being handled by the US attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York. It’s not clear when the investigation kicked off and what the main focus of it is.  The Justice Department and officials from the Eastern District declined to comment to the paper.

At the same time that the grand jury inquiry is going on, Facebook is dealing with other investigations into its practices. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Securities and Exchange Commission are scrutinizing Facebook, as is the Department of Justice’s securities fraud unit. The Justice Department got involved after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, the now defunct political consulting firm, accessed information on 87 million Facebook users without their consent. The Cambridge Analytica investigation is being handled by prosecutors for the Northern District of California and is still ongoing.

The sharing agreements with technology companies are now being included in the FTC’s investigation over whether or not Facebook violated a 2011 consent agreement. Privacy advocates contend it does. The New York Times reported the FTC is mulling whether or not to use the sharing deals as part of negotiations to extract a huge fine from Facebook. It’s expected to be a multibillion-dollar fine that would be the largest ever instituted by a regulator, noted the report.

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