Dem senator: Bombshell Facebook report shows need for federal privacy law

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel Schatz'Medicare for All' complicates Democrats' pitch to retake Senate Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid Booker, Durbin and Leahy introduce bill to ban death penalty MORE (D-Hawaii) on Tuesday cited a bombshell New York Times report about Facebook providing access to users' data to other companies in order to revive calls for a federal privacy law.

"It has never been more clear. We need a federal privacy law. They are never going to volunteer to do the right thing. The [Federal Trade Commission] FTC needs to be empowered to oversee big tech," Schatz tweeted.

The senator confirmed in a separate tweet that his comment came after reading a New York Times story that revealed the social media giant granted major tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix previously undisclosed access to users' personal data.

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The news outlet cited interviews with dozens of former employees and hundreds of documents from the social media platform that showed the company allowed Microsoft's Bing search engine to view the names of Facebook users' friends without consent, allowed Netflix and Spotify to read users' private messages and allowed Amazon to obtain users' names and contact information.

Facebook's director of privacy and public policy, Steve Satterfield, told The Hill in a statement that none of the arrangements violated users' privacy agreements, or a deal between Facebook and the FTC.

A Netflix spokesman said that the company did not access people's private messages at any point, nor did it ask for the ability to do so.

Schatz noted on Twitter that, under current law, the FTC only has the authority to fine companies if a consent decree is violated. He suggested that the agency should be given rulemaking authority and more enforcement capabilities.

The Hawaii senator has been among the most outspoken lawmakers in pushing for a federal privacy law. Schatz's Data Care Act would impose a fiduciary responsibility on any company that collects internet user data to protect that information and not use it in a way that harms the user, and it would give the FTC broader powers.

Tuesday's report comes as Facebook has grappled with controversy after controversy over the past two years for its handling of users' privacy and of misinformation campaigns aimed at disrupting the 2016 election.

Updated Dec. 19 at 1:23 p.m.