Government Gets Tough with Facebook Following Numerous Scandals

Increasing concerns over how tech companies manage and use user privacy and data has led to the U.S. government positioning itself of clamp down on offenders. First in line is Facebook, which is now subject of a multi-state investigation over its data practices. Google is also in the firing line, while other tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft will likely watch on with uneasy interest.

Services like Google and Facebook have become hugely valuable for consumers. Whether its connecting with friends, searching for the best games at, or consuming media, Facebook and Google are often first ports of calls. However, the two companies have increasingly abused their power.

While European regulators continue to wage war on tech companies mismanaging data and compromising privacy, the United States has been more relaxed. Critics have argued the fines handed to tech companies for data breaches or privacy mishaps are insignificant. In response the government has pledged a more forceful approach.

Starting with Facebook, New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading a multi-state investigation. The goal is to see if Facebook is adhering to its privacy commitments and to clamp down on data mismanagement.

“Even the largest social media platform in the world must follow the law and respect consumers. I am proud to be leading a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in investigating whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk,” James said.

“We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.”

Facebook has a frankly shoddy track record with user privacy. Over the last two years, the social network’s reputation has taken a nosedive after a series of scandals. Of course, the most famed of those was the Cambridge Analytica episode, which saw Facebook dragged before Congress to explain its actions.

Cambridge Analytica was able to purchase user data from Facebook by leveraging a third-party who claimed the information was for academic research. With the data, Cambridge Analytica influenced major political elections, including the 2019 U.S. Presidential race. While Facebook acted quickly and banned the company from its advertising network, the damage was done.
Personal data from up to 87 million users was sold, with most users having no idea Facebook was using and selling their information. While Cambridge Analytica folded, Facebook was forced to pick up the pieces.

Further storms followed, including the company being caught knowingly scraping data from Android users. Investigators found the social network was taking data from messages and calls on Android. WhatsApp & Facebook responded with new privacy features and a denial, which was quickly debunked by the UK government.

However, a UK government investigation showed Facebook take data from users. Additionally, the company knew it was likely to upset users but decided to do it anyway:
“Facebook knew that the changes to its policies on the Android mobile phone system, which enabled the Facebook app to collect a record of calls and texts sent by the user would be controversial,” a summary of the documents written by Damian Collins, Conversative MP and Chairman of the Digital Culture, Media and Science Committee who published the documents, reads. “To mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard of possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app.”

The Washington Post reports Google will be the nest to face a multi-state investigation. An announcement on that probe is expected soon, and will include over half the states in the country.

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