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'Zoink': Facebook Facing Criminal Charges Over Data Sharing Deals

"#BreakUpBigTech may sound a lot more palatable to Silicon Valley than #LockUpBigTech."

Mark Zuckerberg on stage at Facebook's F8 Conference, 2014.

Mark Zuckerberg on stage at Facebook's F8 Conference, 2014. (Photo: Maurizio Pesce, Flickr)

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. 

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. 

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."

The Daily Beast editor Noah Schachtman brought up Zuckerberg's past statements as a contrast to the news.

Perhaps the pithiest reaction, however, was saved for the Open Markets Institute's Matt Stoller.

 

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