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Federal prosecutors are probing Facebook’s illicit data-sharing partnerships, reportedly subpoenaing data from smartphone manufacturers as the regulatory walls appear to close in on the beleaguered social media firm.
A New York grand jury has subpoenaed two device-makers’ records as part of a criminal investigation into some of the 150+ dubiously legal data partnerships Facebook forged with technology companies and other large corporations, according to sources familiar with the requests who spoke to the New York Times.
“We are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement, adding, “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so.”
Facebook’s secretive data-sharing partnerships allegedly allowed tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Spotify (and non-tech companies like the Royal Bank of Canada) to read, write, and even delete users’ private messages, see users’ contacts through their friends, and otherwise bypass Facebook’s pesky privacy settings, even if the user opted to disable sharing in the hope of avoiding such intrusion.
Manufacturers of mobile devices got an especially sweet deal, according to internal Facebook documents seen by the Times. Apple, for example, was able to slurp up contact numbers and calendar entries from users who thought they’d disabled all sharing, unbeknownst to the users – though Apple maintains it had no idea Facebook had given it special access and that it removed no data from users’ devices.
The Federal Trade Commission has been mulling a multi-billion-dollar fine that would be the largest ever imposed ever since the revelations that Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal data of 87 million users; the data-sharing partnerships, which appear to violate a consent agreement the FTC imposed in 2011, are just another scandal on a long, long list.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that the company was finally going to start prioritizing users’ privacy, after near-weekly revelations of horrific abuses have inspired hundreds of thousands of users to delete the app from their phones. Better late than never, right?