New York AG Probing Reports of Facebook Data Sharing

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood is investigating reports that Facebook Inc. allegedly struck deals with device-makers to share its user data, as part of an ongoing AG probe into the social media company.

The New York Times reported that Facebook shared information on users and their friends with device manufacturers like Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd, Amazon.com, Inc., and Apple Inc. Facebook disputed the story in a June 4 statement, saying it aims to help device makers build their own versions of Facebook apps.

In March, then-New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced an investigation into Facebook following revelations that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica allegedly harvested the data of 87 million Facebook users.

Underwood, his successor as New York attorney general, said in a June 4 statement that the probe is continuing, with a focus on data sharing issues.

“The news that Facebook struck ‘data-sharing’ partnerships with other corporations is yet another reminder of the many questions that remain unanswered—questions to which New Yorkers deserve clear answers,” Underwood said. Consumers “have the right to know how their personal information is being used.”

“Our investigation into the reported misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica and others remains ongoing—including into these ‘data-sharing’ partnerships. We’re committed to getting to the bottom of what happened.”

Other Ongoing Investigations

New York is among 34 states, including Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut, which asked Facebook in March to answer questions about its data-sharing practices.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen (D) is “reviewing the reported information and determining what next steps, if any, are warranted,” according toJaclyn Severance, the office’s director of communications. Severance declined to provide further comment.

A spokesperson from Attorney General Maura Healey’s (D-Mass.) office declined a Bloomberg Law request for comment. Representatives from the California and Illinois attorneys general offices did not respond to requests for comment.

The Federal Trade Commission also opened an investigation into the company in March to assess whether Facebook violated the terms of a 2011 consent decree over its alleged misuse of users’ personal informationAn FTC spokesperson declined a Bloomberg Law request for comment about whether it will investigate the recent data-sharing reports.

Reactions from Congress

Members of the Senate and the House called for continued probes into the company.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will “continue to seek answers from Facebook and others about the handling of consumer data,” Taylor Foy, a spokesperson for Sen. Grassley, told Bloomberg Law.

“Chairman Grassley expects that the FTC’s ongoing investigation will be broad and thorough. He also expects that it will duly review whether Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree on data privacy practices, as suggested in news reports over the weekend,” Foy said.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also said in a June 4 statement that the FTC “must conduct a full review to determine if the consent decree was violated,” in response to the new reports.

In a request for comment to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Elena Hernandez, a panel spokeswoman told Bloomberg Lawthe New York Times report is a “troubling reminder that the expectations tech companies set for consumer protection sometimes differ from what is actually delivered,” adding that the Energy and Commerce Committee “will continue to examine the issues raised here, and reiterates the call for industry leaders to come and testify before us, discuss their practices, and demonstrate their commitment to an open dialogue.”

Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee also expressed concern over the recent reports. Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, a letter June 4 asking the company to respond to questions about the device manufactures’ access to users’ data.

“The new revelations that Facebook provided access to users’ personal information, including religion, political preferences, and relationship status, to dozens of mobile device manufacturers without users’ explicit consent are deeply concerning,” Sens. Markey and Blumenthal wrote in the letter.

(Updated to reflect that an FTC spokesperson declined to comment. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Merken in Washington at smerken@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Mark at dmark@bloomberglaw.com