Federal prosecutors probing Facebook's data deals: report

Federal prosecutors probing Facebook's data deals: report

Federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into Facebook's data deals with global tech companies, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

According to the Times, a grand jury in New York subpoenaed records from at least two smartphone and device manufacturers. 

Unnamed sources familiar with the matter told the paper that both companies had partnered with Facebook, giving them access to personal data from hundreds of millions of Facebook users.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It has already been reported that there are ongoing federal investigations, including by the Department of Justice. As we’ve said before, we are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so.”

The Justice Department and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment to the Times.

The two firms are among more than 150 companies, including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Sony, that had sharing deals with the social media giant. Under those agreements, companies were allowed to see users' data, including their friends and contact information, sometimes without consent, the Times reported.

Facebook has gradually moved away from most of those partnerships over the past two years, according to the outlet.

It's unclear when the grand jury inquiry began or what it is homing in on, the paper noted. According to the Times, the inquiry is being overseen by prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York.

The probe comes as Facebook faces mounting pressure over privacy concerns.

The tech giant is currently facing scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department's securities fraud division began looking into Facebook after reports emerged that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica improperly acquired the Facebook data of 87 million users to assist then-candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE's presidential campaign.

The Justice Department's Cambridge Analytica probe is still ongoing, with one former employee of the consulting firm telling the Times that he was questioned as recently as last month.

The social media behemoth was again thrust into the spotlight after reports emerged last year that Facebook had given its business partners widespread access to users' personal data, letting some companies essentially override users’ privacy settings.

The Times in June reported that Facebook was sharing detailed and sometimes sensitive user data with companies such as BlackBerry, Samsung, Apple and Microsoft. The partnerships allowed those companies to offer their users Facebook features, including the ability to post photos directly from a device without using the Facebook app.

Most of those partnerships have since been phased out, but privacy advocates have continued to raise concerns that Facebook did not properly gain users' consent to share that data.

Critics have questioned whether those data partnerships violated Facebook's 2011 consent decree with the FTC. Facebook has argued that the partnerships did not violate any privacy rules.

News of the grand jury inquiry comes as the FTC is reportedly considering a record multibillion-dollar fine for the company for violating that same 2011 consent decree.

Emily Birnbaum contributed to this report, which was updated at 9 p.m.