Gov’t Shutdown Stalls FTC Facebook Probe

Government Shutdown Will Force The Suspension Of Facebook Investigation By FTC

The Federal Trade Commission, which was conducting a probe into Facebook and its practices, will be forced to shutter the investigation due to the government shutdown, according to a report by The Washington Post.

The FTC was looking into a few things, including whether Facebook violated a 2011 consent order when it told consumers it would keep their information private, but repeatedly didn’t do so.

The commission’s budget ran out on Friday (Dec. 28), and it will have to completely stop all aspects of the investigation, including anything else it was pursuing.

David Vladeck, former director of the FTC’s consumer protection bureau, said important aspects of the probe have already stopped moving forward.

“The key part of any investigation is the information-gathering stage, which is revealing documents and talking to people,” he said. “It just stops. And it has to stop in an organized way.”

The problem, he said, is that investigators have to spend a week wrapping things up and then another week catching up when the probe continues. FTC workers aren’t allowed to do any work on the probe while the shutdown is in progress.

Other aspects of the FTC’s operations are have also been affected: hotlines aren’t staffed, there will be no events and they won’t respond to any Freedom of Information Act Requests.

There are other concerns in terms of the Facebook investigation as well, especially if there are deadlines involved. One former official, whom the Post declined to name, said missing a deadline could soften the implications of the probe.

“When you impose a deadline, you’ve got a dynamic going,” the former official said. “And when the deadline is suddenly lifted, circumstances can change, new facts can arise, conversations take place that just change the dynamic of the situation.”

Facebook said it was cooperating with investigators all around the world.

“We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues,” the company said.