The social media giant Facebook is under criminal investigation for data sharing deals it struck with over 150 third party companies, in news sure to increase scrutiny of the company and big tech in general.
Another legal headache for Facebook: A federal grand jury in New York has subpoenaed records related to the social network’s data-sharing partnerships with other big tech companies. With @AllMattNYT and @gabrieldance. https://t.co/y7Y0V43kD7— Michael LaForgia (@laforgia_) March 13, 2019
The New York Times reported Wednesday evening that a federal grand jury in New York issued subpoenas to the company at some point over the last few months, though, as the Times pointed out, it was unclear exactly when.
What is clear, however, is that Facebook's data sharing deals violated users' privacy and that the activity may rise to the standard of criminality. It's possible that the deals violated the terms of a 2011 consent decree the company made with the Federal Trade Commission.
Per the Times report:
The sharing deals empowered Microsoft’s Bing search engine to map out the friends of virtually all Facebook users without their explicit consent, and allowed Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends. Apple was able to hide from Facebook users all indicators that its devices were even asking for data.
The report capped a very bad day for Facebook after the site underwent its worst outage ever Wednesday. And the revelation that the company is facing criminal charges is only going to give more credibility to the #BreakUpBigTech idea put forward by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for president and making going after Silicon Valley one of her top priorities on the campaign trail.
Facebook, Amazon, and Google have vast power over our economy and democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition and tilted the playing field in their favor. Time to break up these companies so they don’t have so much power over everyone else. #BreakUpBigTech https://t.co/2rWT0wJ8vD— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) March 8, 2019
With criminal charges potentially in the offing, mused TIME editor-at-large Anand Giridharadas, a break-up of big tech might be preferable to the alternative.
Warren's fellow Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Ed Markey said he was "glad prosecutors are investigating whether Facebook broke criminal law."
I'm glad prosecutors are investigating whether Facebook broke criminal law when it broke consumers' trust & shared users' data without consent. I wrote to Mark Zuckerberg about these revelations in June & demanded answers because Americans have a right to control their own data. https://t.co/4NglCqqbDl— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) March 14, 2019
The Daily Beast editor Noah Schachtman brought up Zuckerberg's past statements as a contrast to the news.
"We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it."— Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) March 13, 2019
-- Mark Zuckerberghttps://t.co/mr8Ubxr9EV
Perhaps the pithiest reaction, however, was saved for the Open Markets Institute's Matt Stoller.