Dem pushes FTC for tougher rules on Facebook sharing data

Dem pushes FTC for tougher rules on Facebook sharing data
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in a letter Friday urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to look at ways to limit Facebook's sharing of consumer data.

Blumenthal provided the FTC with the user agreement from the app "This is Your Digital Life," through which consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was able to improperly harvest the data of 87 million Facebook users.

Blumenthal urged regulators to consider the information from the agreement in the FTC's probe into whether Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree on privacy. The agency opened the probe after the Cambridge Analytica revelations, which sparked controversy over tech companies' data collection.

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The app allowed Global Science Research to collect data, which was later provided to Cambridge Analytica, the British research firm hired by the Trump campaign.

He also provided a letter from a former Facebook employee raising questions about the company's handling of user data.

The letter from former employee Sandy Parakilas was sent to his office. Parakilas, who led third-party advertising, privacy and policy compliance at Facebook, explained that he had raised concerns about how Facebook handled user data to other employees. He alleges those concerns were ignored.

“Despite the fact that executives at Facebook were well aware that developers could, without detection, pass data to unauthorized fourth parties (such as what happened with Cambridge Analytica), little was done to protect users,” he wrote.

“In my first week on the job, I was told about a troubling feature of the App Platform: there was no way to track the use of data after it left Facebook’s servers. That is, once Facebook transferred user data to the developer, Facebook lost all insight into or control over it.”

In his letter, Parakilas explained that Facebook also took little action to make sure the data they provided was not being misused. Parakilas says that he could not remember the company doing any audits on outside companies that had access to Facebook user data.

“Lawsuits and outright bans for data policy violations were also very rare,” he added.

Blumenthal encouraged the FTC to clamp down on Facebook’s broad abilities to access and internally transfer user data.

In his letter, he asked that the FTC consider measures including limiting Facebook from sharing user data between different companies owns it owns, such as Instagram and WhatsApp. He also asked the agency to consider a “third-party monitor” to oversee, investigate and protect Facebook user data that is given to outside companies.

If the FTC finds that Facebook broke the rules that it agreed to in 2011, the social media company could see record fines totaling over $1 billion.