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The Privacy Advisor | FTC investigating whether Facebook violated 2011 consent decree Related reading: California ballot initiative: Speed bump or brick wall?

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The news involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica continues to rapidly evolve since reports came out last weekend exposing the improper handling of user data gleaned from the social network for political purposes. 

On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Facebook violated terms in its 2011 consent decree with the agency. Under the agreement, Facebook said it would get user consent prior to making specific changes to user privacy settings. With the consent decree in place, the FTC has the authority to fine Facebook more than $40,000 a day per violation. Facebook has denied it violated the consent decree. 

And Facebook may face broader investigation, alongside other social media and data-driven companies. Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is considering a hearing with the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet. White House spokesman Raj Shah said President Donald Trump "believes that Americans' privacy should be protected" and backs federal investigations into the incident. "If Congress wants to look into the matter or other agencies want to look into the matter, we welcome that," Shah said. 

A report for The Washington Post looks into Facebook's rules for accessing user data from third parties, pointing out that CA was not the only company that scraped user data. It notes, "experts familiar with Facebook's systems and policies say that the greater problem was that the rules for accessing the social network's information trove were so loose in the first place." In 2011, Carol Davidsen, director of data integration and media analytics for Obama for America, said the organization used the same social graph employed by CA. "We ingested the entire U.S. social graph," she said. "We would ask permission to basically scape your profile, and also scrape your friends, basically anything that was available to scrape. We scraped it all." 

Facebook has also said it will hold a "townhall" Tuesday, with its deputy general counsel set to answer questions. 

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., sent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a detailed letter  Monday "to learn how Facebook user data may have been inappropriately obtained and abused by third parties to target and manipulate tens of millions of American voters without the knowledge or consent of those individuals." Wyden included a specific set of questions he wants answers to by April 13. Most notably, he wants copies "of every privacy assessment and report prepared by or for Facebook as required by the 2011 [FTC] consent agreement." 

Sen. Ron Wyden wants copies "of every privacy assessment and report prepared by or for Facebook as required by the 2011 [FTC] consent agreement." 

Late Monday, reports emerged that the U.K. Information Commissioner's Office sought a warrant to search the offices of Cambridge Analytica. The ICO has been investigating the company during the last year. "On 7 March, my office issued a Demand for Access to records and data in the hands of Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica has not responded by the deadline provided; therefore, we are seeking a warrant to obtain information and access to systems and evidence related to our investigation," ICO Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said. 

In a Newsroom post, Facebook announced it had hired Stroz Friedberg to conduct a "comprehensive audit of Cambridge Analytica." It also noted CA "has agreed to comply and afford the firm complete access to their servers and systems." But, later in the day Monday, it said Stroz Friedberg, which was on site at CA, was asked to stand down by the ICO. "At the request of the UK Information Commissioner's Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, the Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down." 

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani has also said the institution will "investigate fully" the Facebook-CA revelations, saying it was "an unacceptable violation of our citizens' privacy rights." 

The stakes were raised even higher Monday after the U.K.'s Channel 4 news aired a story prompted by undercover reporters who captured video of CA executives boasting about swaying elections and compromising politicians, including fake bribery schemes and hiring sex workers to seduce the politicians. CA Chief Executive Alexander Nix is recorded as saying, "It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these things that don't need to be true as long as they're believed." 

Cambridge Analytica issued a press release to deny what it calls "false allegations" made by the New York Times, the Guardian and Channel 4 News:

"In 2014 we received Facebook data and derivatives of Facebook data from another company, GSR, that we engaged in good faith to legally supply data for research. After it subsequently became known that GSR had broken its contract with Cambridge Analytica because it had not adhered to data protection regulation, Cambridge Analytica deleted all the Facebook data and derivatives, in cooperation with Facebook.

"This Facebook data was not used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump presidential campaign; personality targeted advertising was not carried out for this client either. The company has made this clear since 2016."

Aleksandr Kogan, the data scientist who gathered the information on millions of U.S. citizens, said he would speak "candidly about the project." 

The New York Times reported Monday night that Facebook's head of security, Alex Stamos, is leaving the company in August, allegedly over internal disagreements about messaging. The resignation "reflects the heightened leadership tension at the top of the social network," the report states. "Much of the internal disagreement is rooted in how much Facebook should publicly share about how nations states misused the platform and debate over organizational changes in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, according to current and former employees briefed on the matter." 

Facebook VP of AR/VR Andrew Bosworth posted more information about the CA news and a list of answers to frequently asked questions. "We are serious about protecting our community and their data," he said. "This issue can no longer happen the way it did given what we fixed in the product three years ago, but that doesn't change what happened. It's a breach of trust." 

CNBC reports Facebook's VP of marketing said the company is "beyond disturbed" by the kerfuffle. Carolyn Everson said, "If the allegations are true, this is an incredible violations of everything that we stand for." 

The privacy commissioners of Australia and Canada have also said they are looking into the matter. "My office is making inquiries with Facebook to ascertain whether any personal information of Australians was involved," said Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim. Canada Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said the incident raises "serious privacy concerns." He said his office is making inquiries about whether Canadian citizen data was part of the scandal. 

photo credit: Sole Treadmill facebook via photopin (license)

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