NC Attorney General 'Demands Answers' From Facebook On Privacy Breaches

Mar 27, 2018
Originally published on April 8, 2018 12:09 pm

Updated at 5:30 p.m.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has joined a bipartisan coalition of 37 attorneys general to “demand answers” from Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

Stein and the coalition of AGs sent a letter to Zuckerberg Monday with questions about Facebook’s business practices and privacy protections following news reports that data firm Cambridge Analytica exploited the social network's user personal data to influence U.S. elections.

According to Stein, the letter is not necessarily a sign that the AGs are planning to take legal action against Facebook. 

“What this is, is a letter to demand answers,” said Stein, who joined WFAE’s Mark Rumsey on “All Things Considered.” “What will happen in the future will depend on the nature of those answers. I think it’s premature to say that there will be legal action, although depending on what we learn, legal action may occur.” 

Stein said that it’s too early to determine if Facebook broke any North Carolina consumer protection laws against unfair or deceptive trade practices. 

“That’s why we want to know the full extent of what happened so that we can determine whether there were any violations of law,” Stein said.  

The letter said that even though Facebook doesn’t contend that the Cambridge Analytica incident was a data breach, the company’s previous privacy policies were “confusing and perhaps misleading.” The AGs referenced reports that the company allowed third-party developers to access personal data of Facebook users without their knowledge or expressed consent.

The reports raise many “serious questions,” according to the letter, including how much control Facebook had over the data given to developers, the ways in which the company monitors the developers’ use of user data, and the protective safeguards the company used to make sure developers were not misusing the data. The letter also inquired about how many users in each state were impacted by the Cambridge Analytica incident.

Stein said the coalition sent the letter to Zuckerberg because they want to “get to the bottom of what really happened.”

In addition to answers to their questions, the AGs are also requesting an update from Facebook on what the company will do to make sure users can more easily control the privacy of their accounts.

The coalition's letter comes the same day the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection acknowledged it has opened an investigation into Facebook. 

In a statement, the agency's acting director said "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.”

This isn’t the first time the FTC has investigated Facebook’s data practices. In 2011, the company settled on FTC charges that it “deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public.” The settlement required Facebook to live up to the privacy promises it made to its customers. 

Stein said the FTC’s decision to investigate does not keep him from questioning Facebook himself. 

“Just because the Federal Trade Commission is doing that should not mean that I shouldn’t look out for the people of North Carolina,” Stein said. 

Stein said he expects the company to comply with the letter - he’s already received a response from Facebook representatives. 

“I think this will be an ongoing matter where we have a number of conversations with Facebook to get to the bottom of what really happened,” Stein said. 

You can read the letter from the attorneys general here.

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