A federal investigation into Facebook’s sharing of data with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica has broadened to focus on the actions and statements of the tech giant and now involves three agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to people familiar with the official inquiries.
Representatives for the FBI, the SEC and the Federal Trade Commission have joined the Department of Justice in its inquiries about the two companies and the sharing of personal information of 71 million Americans, suggesting the wide-ranging nature of the investigation, said five people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a probe that remains incomplete.
Facebook discovered in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica, which later worked for the Trump campaign and other Republican candidates, had obtained Facebook data to create voter profiles. Yet Facebook didn’t disclose that information to the public until March, on the eve of the publication of news reports about the matter.
The questioning from federal investigators centers on what Facebook knew three years ago and why the company didn’t reveal it at the time to its users or investors, as well as any discrepancies in more recent accounts, among other issues, according to these people. The Capitol Hill testimony of Facebook officials, including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, also is being scrutinized as part of the probe, said people familiar with the federal inquiries.
Facebook confirmed that it had received questions from the federal agencies and said it was sharing information and cooperating in other ways. “We are cooperating with officials in the US, UK and beyond,” said Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues.”
The Department of Justice and the other federal agencies declined to comment. The FTC in March disclosed that it was investigating Facebook over possible privacy violations.
The SEC has described the investigation as “The Facebook Matter,” according to two people who have seen related documents.
Cambridge Analytica has closed operations since the scandal erupted and an inquiry to its press office was returned as undeliverable.
The New York Times previously reported that the Department of Justice was investigating Cambridge Analytica. But the extent of federal investigation into the actions and statements of Facebook itself has not previously been revealed.
“The fact that the Justice Department, the FBI, the SEC and the FTC are sitting down together does raise serious concerns,” said David Vladeck, former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and now a Georgetown Law professor. He said he had no direct knowledge of the investigation but said the combination of agencies involved “does raise all sorts of red flags.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett