Massachusetts AG opens investigation into Facebook, Cambridge Analytica
- The Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healy, has opened an investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to the Trump campaign, according to a CNN report. Facebook announced last week it suspended Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories, as well as a University of Cambridge psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, for violating the platform's policies, as detailed in a Facebook Newsroom post by VP and Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal.
- The issue goes back to 2015, when Facebook learned that Kogan shared information obtained from 270,000 people who downloaded his app and passed it along to SCL/Cambridge Analytica and to Wylie. While Kogan obtained the information legitimately, he violated Facebook policies by sharing the information, according to the Newsroom post. All parties involved had assured Facebook that the information had been destroyed; however, Facebook recently heard reports that not all of the data had been deleted, leading to the suspension.
- While Cambridge Analytica denies holding or using data from Facebook profiles, the company said in a statement that it's fully complying with Facebook to resolve the issue as soon as possible. However, Facebook is taking the matter much more seriously, with Grewal writing in the post that the company would possibly pursue legal action against the firm.
The news comes as another reputation blow to Facebook, which has faced mounting questions over its handling of user data and lack of transparency over the past several years. Wylie, a whistleblower on Cambridge Analytica who told his story as part of an investigative piece conducted by The New York Times and The Observer of London published last week, wrote in a tweet posted on March 18: "Suspended by @facebook. For blowing the whistle. On something they have known privately for 2 years."
A state attorney general opening up an investigation into Facebook underpins how the social media giant faces increased scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers that largely stems from the role it played in helping to disseminate false or misleading information that affected the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Facebook has for years operated, like many digital platforms, as a technology company not beholden to the traditional demands and oversights of media companies, but that might start to change amid growing pressure from the government, advertisers and the public.
Last fall, Facebook outlined new advertising principles and reiterated a commitment to privacy by saying it wouldn't sell user data. The company also recently overhauled its News Feed to prioritize content from publishers that the community rates as trustworthy, informative and relevant to improve the quality of the content shared. In his post, Grewal explained how Facebook requires developers to go through its App Review process and explain which data they are attempting to collect and how they will use it. Facebook also performs regular manual and automated checks to ensure developers comply with its policies.