The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is opening an investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices, following reports last week that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica obtained 50 million Facebook users’ personal data without permission.
The FTC confirmed the investigation Monday, saying in a press release that it “takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook.”
After several days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has apologized through numerous mediums, including a Facebook post and full-page ads in major newspapers. The moves haven’t been enough to please investors, as Facebook’s stock has dropped 17 percent since the reports about the data breach surfaced last week.
The public doesn’t have much faith in Facebook either. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released over the weekend, only 41 percent of respondents trust Facebook to obey laws protecting users’ personal information. Fellow tech giants that collect large amounts of data, such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google all had much higher degrees of public trust in the 60 percent range.
Cambridge Analytica was officially formed by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon with a $15 million investment from Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer. The goal was to leverage tactics originating at Cambridge University that claimed to predict personality traits and behavior through a process called “psychographic mapping.”
The app scraped private information from those 300,000 Facebook profiles, including data from 50 million of their unwitting Facebook friends. The groups then used that data to help inform the campaigns of President Donald Trump and other conservative candidates.
Facebook claims it ordered the firm to delete the data when it found out about, and Cambridge Analytica claimed that it had. But reports last week indicated that Cambridge had not deleted the data, bringing the issue into the public eye and putting the microscope on Facebook’s privacy practices.
Here’s the full statement from acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Tom Pahl:
The FTC is firmly and fully committed to using all of its tools to protect the privacy of consumers. Foremost among these tools is enforcement action against companies that fail to honor their privacy promises, including to comply with Privacy Shield, or that engage in unfair acts that cause substantial injury to consumers in violation of the FTC Act. Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook. Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices.