A federal grand jury is examining Facebook deals that gave personal information its users thought was private to a wide range of companies that make electronic devices, according to a new report.
Citing sources it did not name, The New York Times said a New York City-based grand jury has issued a subpoena for records from at least two major companies that make smart phones and other electronics.
Both companies were among what The Times said were 150 companies that entered into data-sharing deals with Facebook. Federal officials did not comment to The Times on its report and it was unclear when the grand jury investigation began.
It is being conducted through the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
According to The Times, the deals allowed Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, and other companies to see users’ friends, contact information and other information. Users were not always aware that the companies were accessing their information.
The data-sharing agreements were revealed last year by The Times and other media outlets. Facebook has said that most of the agreements have been phased out during the past two years.
“We are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement, according to The Times.
“We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so.”
Facebook has been at the middle of ongoing concerns about privacy since revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, improperly accessed the data of about 87 million Facebook users.
The sharing deals are under investigation because of a 2011 consent agreement between Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission regarding data sharing.
Privacy advocates have claimed that Facebook violated the spirit, if not the letter, of those deals.
“It’s like having door locks installed, only to find out that the locksmith also gave keys to all of his friends so they can come in and rifle through your stuff without having to ask you for permission,” Ashkan Soltani, a research and privacy consultant who formerly served as the FYC’s chief technologist, told The Times in an article published in June.
Soltani last year spoke before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee during its investigation of the Cambridge Analytica leak and was asked about whether Facebook violated the agreement, which he helped develop, Bloomberg reported.
“It is my opinion that they have,” he told lawmakers.
“No other single company has done more to erode consumer privacy than Facebook,” Soltani said.
“Facebook’s business practices have driven the entire online advertising industry to adopt increasingly invasive tracking practices in what amounts to a race to the bottom for privacy,” he said.
When initial reports of data-sharing with electronics companies surfaced, Facebook denied it did anything wrong.
“These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences,” Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships, wrote in a blog post responding to The Times June report.
“We are not aware of any abuse by these companies,” he wrote, adding that Facebook has been “winding down access” to the software.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that Facebook will upgrade its efforts to protect privacy.
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