California acknowledges Facebook investigation, asks court to order compliance

California acknowledges Facebook investigation, asks court to order compliance
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California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraKamala Harris engages with heckler during New York speech The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Manchin, Sanders in budget feud; Biden still upbeat FDA proposes rule to offer over-the-counter hearing aids MORE (D) is asking the San Francisco County Superior Court to require Facebook to comply with a previously unannounced investigation into the social media giant's data practices.

In a court filing made public on Wednesday, Becerra's office revealed that Facebook has declined to comply with multiple subpoenas and requests for documents.

“Facebook broadly refuses to answer the interrogatories or comply with the subpoena as required," Becerra wrote in the filing.


He added that Facebook has refused to "provide a direct answer to 19 out of 27 interrogatories" and has provided a "partial response" to six. According to Becerra, Facebook has failed to search for relevant documents within communications involving Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark ZuckerbergFacebook whistleblower: shareholders would oust Zuckerberg if they could Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — US cracks down on tools for foreign hacking DC AG adds Facebook's Zuckerberg to Cambridge Analytica suit MORE or the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

“Over the past year and a half, we have lawfully issued several subpoenas and interrogatories as part of our investigation into Facebook’s practices relating to privacy, disclosures, and third-party access to user data,” Becerra told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

“Facebook, however, has not been fully responsible,” he said.

The court filing acknowledged that Becerra's office has been investigating Facebook since 2018, in a probe that had not been publicly reported or confirmed. It noted the investigation kicked off after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but it has since expanded to probe whether Facebook violated California law by “deceiving users and ignoring its own policies in allowing third parties broad access to user data.”

Facebook in a statement said it has cooperated "extensively" with California's investigation.

"To date, we have provided thousands of pages of written responses and hundreds of thousands of document,” said Will Castleberry, Facebook's vice president of state and local policy. 

Becerra has faced escalating pressure over the past several months as separate coalitions of state attorneys general announced wide-ranging antitrust investigations into Facebook and Google. California officials had not publicly announce their participation in either of those probes, raising speculation over why Silicon Valley's home state was not investigating the market power and dominance of its largest companies.

At a press conference earlier this year, Becerra pushed back on reporters who implied he was not looking into Google or Facebook over antitrust issues.

"How do you know we're not investigating?" he asked a reporter.

On Wednesday, he noted that the California attorney general’s office does not publicly disclose investigations unless there is a “legal action.”

“We are left with little choice but to seek a court order compelling Facebook to faithfully comply with our duly authorized subpoenas,” Becerra said.

The California probe of Facebook is occurring alongside the separate probes into whether it unfairly wields its market dominance to quash competitors and take advantage of consumers. A coalition of 47 attorneys general last month announced they have joined onto the antitrust investigation.

The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice are conducting their own investigations into potential antitrust issues around Facebook.

--This report was updated at 3 p.m.