As Congress grapples with how to respond to the scandal engulfing Facebook’s data sharing practices, state attorneys general are taking action, launching investigations and promising lawsuits against the company, if warranted.
At least four states have now asked Facebook to answer questions about the access it gave companies to users’ data, an inquiry prompted after press reports revealed the voter targeting firm used by Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Cambridge Analytica, harvested data from thousands of Facebook users without their permission. On Thursday, Facebook held a conference call with a handful of the state officials to answer their requests.
One state official, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, told VICE News after the call that the states are “just at the beginning stages of this” inquiry. He believes Facebook could have violated two state laws by allowing Cambridge Analytica access to users’ data, even if it was without the company’s explicit knowledge.
That’s because Facebook has a responsibility to protect consumers in Pennsylvania, he said, “And if there was a breach — and it seems like there was a few years ago — there is a responsibility to notify the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and other states as well.”
Shapiro said there needs to be tougher federal laws on the books when it comes to regulating companies like Facebook, but he is hopeful the pressure from the states — and the potential fines and negative publicity that go along with it — might be enough to encourage Facebook and other tech companies to focus more on protecting consumer privacy.
“Make no mistake — if we uncover the fact that Facebook failed to adequately protect your information and allowed… someone literally to go into the warehouse, take the information and leave, because they gave them the keys, there can be severe penalties on them,” he said.
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