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Federal agencies probe Facebook’s role in sharing data with Cambridge Analytica

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pauses while testifying before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary committees on Capitol Hill in Washington about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

A federal investigation into Facebook’s sharing of data with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica has broadened to focus on the actions and statements of the tech giant and involves three agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to people familiar with the official inquiries.

Representatives for the FBI, the SEC and the Federal Trade Commission have joined the Justice Department in its inquiries into the two companies and the sharing of personal information of 71 million Americans, suggesting the wide-ranging nature of the investigation, said five people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an investigation that remains incomplete.

These people added that the emphasis has been on what Facebook has reported publicly about its sharing of information with Cambridge Analytica, whether those representations square with the underlying facts and whether Facebook made sufficiently complete and timely disclosures to the public and investors about the matter. The Capitol Hill testimony of Facebook officials, including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, also is being scrutinized as part of the investigation, said people familiar with the federal inquiries.

Facebook confirmed that it had received questions from the federal agencies and said it was sharing information and cooperating in other ways. “We are cooperating with officials in the U.S., U.K. and beyond,” Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld said. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues.”

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The Justice Department and the other federal agencies declined to comment. The FTC in March disclosed that it was investigating Facebook over possible privacy violations. Cambridge Analytica has closed operations since the scandal erupted, and an inquiry to its press office was returned as undeliverable.

The New York Times previously reported that the Justice Department was investigating Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that worked for President Trump and other Republican candidates. But the extent of federal investigation into the actions and statements of Facebook itself has not previously been revealed.

“The fact that the Justice Department, the FBI, the SEC and the FTC are sitting down together does raise serious concerns,” said David Vladeck, former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and now a Georgetown Law professor. He said he had no direct knowledge of the investigation but said the combination of agencies involved “does raise all sorts of red flags.”


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