Nearly four months after the revelation that Facebook failed to stop data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica from utilizing improperly obtained data of up to 87 million Facebook users, U.S. agencies have remained quiet as to what punishment the company will face, if any. Now, a new report from the Washington Post gives more detail into what federal investigators are reportedly looking at.
Reporters spoke to five sources “familiar with the official inquiries,” who said that the current focus of the investigation is on how Facebook dealt with Cambridge Analytica privately versus what it publicly reported — including statements that Mark Zuckerberg gave when he testified in front of Congress in April — and whether those disclosures were “sufficiently complete and timely.”
The Washington Post also reported that the agencies investigating Facebook now include the FBI, the SEC, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Justice Department.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat that the company had received questions from those four agencies and said that “we are cooperating with officials in the U.S., U.K., and beyond. We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues.”
After the Cambridge Analytica news broke in March, the FTC released a statement confirming that it was conducting an “open, non-public investigation” into Facebook’s privacy practices.
British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica — which worked on a number of political campaigns, including that of U.S. president Donald Trump — obtained the data through a quiz called thisisyourdigitallife. Some 3,000 users took the quiz, which unbeknownst to them, gave the quiz creator access to certain data from their Facebook friends. Quiz creator Aleksandr Kogan then gave that data to Cambridge Analytica, which — without having gotten user consent — used the data to produce targeted political ads.
Facebook said it first heard that Cambridge Analytica had obtained the data in 2015, at which time it sent a letter asking the company to destroy the data. Cambridge Analytica reportedly said it had done so, but Facebook never followed up to ensure that this was the case. After British news outlet The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica had continued to use the data, Zuckerberg was called to testify in front of both the U.S. Congress and the U.K. House of Commons (though he has only testified in front of the former). Cambridge Analytica, in the face of intense scrutiny from the U.S. and U.K. government, shut down in May.
During his Congressional testimony, Zuckerberg said that Facebook was still “getting to the bottom of what Cambridge Analytica exactly did,” and that in hindsight, it was a mistake to not take steps to ensure the data had been destroyed. He also said Facebook would have to do an audit into Cambridge Analytica’s systems to know exactly what the company did with the data, but that this audit was “temporarily ceded” in order to let the U.K. government complete their own investigation.