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Scrutiny of Facebook continues to mount as new criminal investigation comes to light

A criminal investigation into Facebook's data-sharing deals intensifies the growing scrutiny of the social media behemoth's business practices

Federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into Facebook for its data-sharing deals with other major technology companies, including Microsoft, Amazon and Apple.

According to reports by The New York Times, a grand jury in New York has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent smartphone manufacturers that have entered into partnerships with Facebook, giving them broad access to the personal information of millions.

The smartphone manufacturers are just two of the 150 plus companies that have entered into partnerships with the social media giant.

The agreements, which were originally reported by The New York Times in June 2018, allows the partnered companies to access the data of users’ friends, including contact information, without explicit consent.

“We are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously,” a Facebook spokesman told The Times. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so.”

While it is unclear what the grand jury inquiry is focusing on and when it started, the news of a criminal investigation follows a slew of other US-based probes into the business conduct of Facebook, which started after it was revealed that political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly obtained the data of 87 million Facebook users.

This includes investigations by the Federal Trade Commission, the justice department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg invited one of the chancellor’s children to Facebook’s office as part of a intensive lobbying programme to influence European data protection legislation.
  • After a storm of controversy and criticism over the way Facebook fails to protect users’ privacy, the company’s chief says he plans to transform it into a privacy-focused platform.

Across the Atlantic, the office of the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has also disclosed that it is running 15 separate investigations into Facebook for alleged breaches of the European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Leaked internal documents seen by Computer Weekly has also revealed how Facebook planned to spy on its users through its Android smartphone app and pass data on users who described themselves as “single” to companies selling political advertisements and dating services.

The Android app revelations came just four days after the publication of a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee report in the UK, which said Facebook had “deliberately frustrated” its inquiry into the spread of fake news and hate speech over social media.

The disclosures have prompted calls for government regulation, not only for Facebook, but the wider tech sector.

American senator Elizabeth Warren has pledged to break up Amazon, Facebook and Google if elected president next year.

Writing on Medium, she said: “We need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favour and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor.”

An expert panel led by former US president Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser, Jason Furman, has finished a six-month long review of the UK’s digital economy, concluding that large technology firms should face greater competition.

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