New York AG To Launch Investigation Into Facebook

The New York State Attorney General (AG) is reportedly launching an investigation into social media giant Facebook, focusing on the its past practice of collecting more than 1.5 million email address books of users.

The New York Times (NY Times), citing two people briefed on the matter, reported that the practice was revealed in a Business Insider report earlier in April, showing that Facebook harvested the email contact lists of some of its new users who signed on after 2016. The lists were used to improve Facebook’s algorithms for targeted ads.

“Facebook has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of respect for consumers’ information, while at the same time profiting from mining that data,” said Letitia James, the New York AG, in a statement confirming the investigation. “It is time Facebook is held accountable for how it handles consumers’ personal information.”

In response to the discovery in early April, Facebook called it an “unintentional” mistake, due to Facebook’s requirement that new users verify their identities by sending Facebook their passwords. The practice ended in May of 2016, but Facebook maintained access to the email address books of the 1.5 million or more new users, reported the NY Times.

Facebook told the paper that it has spoken to the New York AG’s office, and is responding to the questions about the matter. The NY Times noted that the investigation will look at how the program came to be, and if the email collections included more people than reported. 

The inquiry by the New York AG is the latest investigation to be announced covering Facebook’s business practices. In reporting its quarterly earnings this week, Facebook said it could face a fine of between $3 billion and $5 billion from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over how it handles customers data. The one-time fine stems from the agency’s investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices. The FTC has accused the social media platform of violating a privacy consent decree from 2011 after letting now-defunct political consulting group Cambridge Analytica access the data on millions of Facebook users without their consent.