An alphabet soup of federal agencies are now poring over Facebook’s disclosures and the company’s statements about its response to the improper use of its user information by the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission have joined the Justice Department in examining how the personal information of 71 million Americans was distributed by Facebook and used by Cambridge Analytica, according to a Washington Post report released Monday.
According to the Post, the emphasis of the investigation has been on what Facebook disclosed about its information sharing with Cambridge Analytica and whether those disclosures correlate to the timeline that’s being established by government investigators. The fear, for Facebook, is that the government may decide that the company didn’t reveal enough to either investors or the public about the extent of the misallocation of user data. Another concern is whether the Cambridge Analytica decision violated the terms of an earlier settlement Facebook made with the Federal Trade Commission.
The redoubled efforts of so many divisions could potentially ensnare Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who was brought before Congress with other Facebook officials to testify about the breaches. People familiar with the investigation told the Post that the officials’ testimony was being scrutinized.
In a statement, Facebook noted it had received questions from different agencies and that it was cooperating.
Acting director Tom Pahl said at the time:
The FTC is firmly and fully committed to using all of its tools to protect the privacy of consumers. Foremost among these tools is enforcement action against companies that fail to honor their privacy promises, including to comply with Privacy Shield, or that engage in unfair acts that cause substantial injury to consumers in violation of the FTC Act. Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook. Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices.
The multiple investigations by U.S. and U.K. agencies into the ways in which Cambridge Analytica accessed and exploited data on social media users in political campaigns have already pushed the political consulting firm into bankruptcy.
It’s unlikely (read impossible) that Facebook would suffer anything like the same fate, and the company’s stock price has already recovered from whatever negative impact the scandal wrought on the social network’s market capitalization. Rather, the lingering investigations show the potential for government regulators (and lawmakers) to involve themselves in the company’s operations.
As with everything else in Washington, it’s always the cover up — never the crime.