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AG issues subpoena to Facebook seeking answers on data sharing


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has issued an investigative subpoena to Facebook in a wide-ranging probe seeking answers to the sharing and tracking of consumers’ user data.

The investigation — coming on the heels of reports that Cambridge Analytica gained access to 50 million Facebook users’ personal data — will look into whether the social-media giant violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

The civil investigative demand issued by the Attorney General’s Office includes some 60 queries, according to Hawley. He wants to know what Facebook is doing with user information and whom they are sharing it with.

“I want to know does Facebook truly disclose to its users the kind of data that it collects,” Hawley said in a press conference. “Does it disclose how it uses this information? Does it disclose how it shares this information? For that matter, whom precisely is Facebook sharing this information and on what terms? And is Facebook taking the necessary precautions to protect the personal information of its users?”  

The investigation is also looking into the collection between Android phones and the Facebook app. The AGO wants to know how much information Facebook tracks on Android phones, whether users are aware of the tracking, and whether they consented to the tracking.

Hawley said he has tried at various points to read Facebook’s terms and conditions of agreement, which changes all the time. Part of his query is looking into what the company is required to tell users under the law and if Facebook is appropriately disclosing what it is doing with collected data, what it is collecting, and what it tells users.

Part of the probe includes President Barack Obama’s use of Facebook data when he ran for re-election in 2012. Hawley wants to know what Facebook shared with Obama’s campaign outside of advertisement data and is seeking all communications and documents about meetings.

“There is no excuse for this irresponsible handling of user data,” Hawley said in a statement. “Missourians need to know that they can trust the companies and platforms that have access to as much user information as Facebook does.”

Facebook faces a May 29 deadline to respond to the investigative subpoena.

Hawley’s probe is one of a several actions being taken by states, federal officials, and other countries.

In March, 37 state attorneys general, including Missouri, signed a letter requesting information about Facebook’s policies and practices for protecting consumer data.

Authorities in Britain and the United States are investigating whether Cambridge Analytica may have used the improperly obtained data to try to influence elections. Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg is slated to testify before Congress in the coming weeks and has been requested to appear before a parliamentary committee in London. Germany’s justice minister recently said she wants more oversight of companies such as Facebook.

Zuckerberg said it will take “a few years” to solve the issues plaguing the social media company.

When asked about opening an investigation in addition to the one being conducted on a federal level, Hawley said his offices “will take all appropriate steps and use all tools at our disposal to ensure Missouri law is followed and consumers are protected.”

“[The investigation] is needed because Missouri consumers are affected. It is needed because Missouri law protects these consumers. It is needed because it is this offices responsibility to enforce that law for the protection of Missouri consumers,” Hawley said.

In November, the AGO announced an investigation into Google’s business practices. The Office is also investigating recent data breaches at Equifax and Uber.

Watch the full press conference here: