AG Hood Investigating Facebook’s User Privacy Practices
Attorney General Jim Hood sent a letter to Facebook, Inc. last week putting the social media giant on notice to preserve any relevant information for his investigation into the company’s user privacy practices in light of recent news about the company providing users’ personal information to third parties without users’ consent or knowledge. The investigation covers the time period starting in November 2013 and forward.
General Hood is investigating whether Facebook violated the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act when it gave permission to University of Cambridge Professor Aleksandr Kogan to harvest information of users who downloaded his app, thisisyourdigitallife. Types of information collected include user location, friends of the user, and user activity on the social media platform, which was then sold to a third party.
The letter sent to Facebook by General Hood served as a litigation hold notice, stating that parties have “a duty to preserve potentially relevant information that may be used as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.” It asked Facebook to preserve both paper and electronic documents that would provide information relating to this investigation, specifically “any and all documents and electronically stored information related to Dr. Aleksandr Kogan and his creation and use of an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that used Facebook Login to pass data to a company called SCL/Cambridge Analytica.”
“Consumers are repeatedly being victimized by big business’ failure to properly safeguard their privacy rights,” said General Hood. “These companies are entrusted with our most personal information and need to be held accountable when they breach that trust. This is why we sued Google, which mined the data of students who used their educational software. We also took the issue to Congress, which just recently passed a bill that no longer gives immunity to websites that allow advertisers like backpage.com to advertise for child sex trafficking. Now we’re investigating Facebook, another everyday platform people use that is all the while collecting their personal information. Federal government is no longer big brother—these internet companies are big brother, and there have to be rules they must follow.”
Additionally, General Hood joined a bipartisan coalition with 36 state attorneys general in sending a separate letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, raising questions about the social networking site’s policies and practices, including:
- Were those terms of service clear and understandable?
- How did Facebook monitor what these developers did with all the data that they collected?
- What type of controls did Facebook have over the data given to developers?
- Did Facebook have protective safeguards in place, including audits, to ensure developers were not misusing the Facebook user’s data?
- How many users in the states of the signatory Attorneys General were impacted?
- When did Facebook learn of this breach of privacy protections?
- During this timeframe, what other third party “research” applications were also able to access the data of unsuspecting Facebook users?
As the attorneys general write in their letter to CEO Zuckerberg, news reports indicate the data of at least 50 million Facebook profiles may have been misused by third-party software developers. Facebook’s policies allowed developers to access the personal data of “friends” of people who used certain applications – without the knowledge or consent of these users.
General Hood reminds Mississippians to check the security settings on their social media accounts, paying close attention to any area that offers options for sharing data with applications connected to that social media platform. Users should also be vigilant of clicking on any links that they have not verified as a trusted source. For more consumer protection tips, visit agjimhood.com.
Click here for a copy of the letter AG Jim Hood sent to Facebook asking the company to preserve both paper and electronic documents that would provide information relating to this investigation.
Click here for a copy of the letter sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from AG Jim Hood and a bipartisan coalition with 36 state attorneys general raising questions about the social networking site’s policies and practices.