DC slaps Face­book with lat­est suit tar­get­ing pri­vacy lapses

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Business / International - DE­CEM­BER 21, 2018

THE District of Co­lum­bia has fired the lat­est le­gal salvo against Face­book with a law­suit seek­ing to pun­ish the so­cial net­work­ing com­pany for al­low­ing data-min­ing firm Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica to im­prop­erly ac­cess data from as many as 87 mil­lion users .

The com­plaint filed Wed­nes­day by Wash­ing­ton, D.C., At­tor­ney Gen­eral Karl Racine al­leges that Face­book mis­led users about the se­cu­rity of their data and failed for years to prop­erly mon­i­tor third-party apps.

“We’re seek­ing to hold Face­book ac­count­able for jeop­ar­diz­ing and ex­pos­ing the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of tens of mil­lions of its users,” Racine said. “We hope this law­suit will en­sure Face­book takes bet­ter care with its data.”

Face­book said it’s re­view­ing the com­plaint and will con­tinue to hold dis­cus­sions with Racine and at­tor­neys gen­eral scat­tered across the coun­try who have raised red flags about the com­pany’s mis­han­dling of per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

The law­suit is the lat­est blow to Face­book in a year fraught with pri­vacy scan­dals and other prob­lems for the world’s big­gest so­cial net­work.

Face­book al­ready has been buried in an avalanche of other law­suits filed in fed­eral and state courts, as well as reg­u­la­tory in­ves­ti­ga­tions in both U.S. and Europe into whether the com­pany has vi­o­lated laws by re­peat­edly al­low­ing unau­tho­rized ac­cess to the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of the nearly 2.3 bil­lion peo­ple on its pri­vate net­work.

Most of the headaches be­gan in March after rev­e­la­tions that Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, which had been work­ing with the 2016 cam­paign of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, had been able to vac­uum up po­ten­tially valu­able in­for­ma­tion about U.S. vot­ers off of Face­book pro­files.

That bomb­shell trig­gered con­gres­sional hear­ings and changes in what sorts of data Face­book lets out­side de­vel­op­ers ac­cess.

The Wash­ing­ton law­suit al­leges that about half of the District of Co­lum­bia’s roughly 700,000 res­i­dents had their data scooped up by Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica in vi­o­la­tion of lo­cal laws. That is a rel­a­tively small num­ber, but the case could at­tract out­sized at­ten­tion, given it will un­fold in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, where U.S. law­mak­ers are mulling im­pos­ing new reg­u­la­tions re­strict­ing how much per­sonal in­for­ma­tion Face­book and other in­ter­net com­pa­nies can col­lect on their mostly free ser­vices.

“Ev­ery time we see an­other law­suit, or in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it helps keep at­ten­tion on what has been hap­pen­ing and should help cre­ate a frame­work for hold­ing Face­book ac­count­able,” said Mike Chap­ple, an as­so­ciate teach­ing pro­fes­sor of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, an­a­lyt­ics and op­er­a­tions at the Univer­sity of Notre Dame. “Peo­ple are get­ting fed up with hav­ing their in­for­ma­tion mis­han­dled.”

It re­mains un­clear, how­ever, whether the al­le­ga­tions that are be­ing made against Face­book in the District of Co­lum­bia and in other com­plaints were against the law at the time, said Dora Kings­ley Ver­ten­ten, pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

“It looks like they are throw­ing spaghetti against the wall and see­ing what sticks,” she said.

Face­book has re­peat­edly as­sured law­mak­ers, reg­u­la­tors and the me­dia that it is bat­ten­ing down its hatches in an ef­fort to do a bet­ter job pre­vent­ing unau­tho­rized ac­cess to the pic­tures, thoughts and other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion that its nearly 2.3 bil­lion users typ­i­cally in­tend to share only with friends and fam­ily.

But rev­e­la­tions of more pri­vacy lapses con­tinue to crop up, some­times through break­downs that Face­book has pe­ri­od­i­cally dis­closed, such as a soft­ware flaw that im­prop­erly ex­posed the pho­tos of about 7 mil­lion users, or other times though me­dia in­ves­ti­ga­tions such as a New York Times re­port doc­u­ment­ing the com­pany’s agree­ments to share its au­di­ence’s in­for­ma­tion with its part­ners, in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft and Net­flix.

With each break­down, Face­book risks los­ing cred­i­bil­ity with both its au­di­ence and the ad­ver­tis­ers whose spend­ing gen­er­ates most of the com­pany’s rev­enue. That threat has spooked in­vestors, caus­ing Face­book’s stock price to plunge by more than 24 per­cent so far this year, wip­ing out more than $100 bil­lion in share­holder wealth.

Some of the law­suits al­lege Face­book mis­led in­vestors as its pri­vacy prob­lems un­folded. Other law­suits, as well as reg­u­la­tory in­quiries by the U.S. Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion and the Ir­ish Data Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sion, are fo­cused on Face­book’s shar­ing of per­sonal in­for­ma­tion with other com­pa­nies. Depend­ing on how they turn out, the law­suits and gov­ern­ment probes could cost Face­book bil­lions of dol­lars more in penal­ties.

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