California Discloses Probe On Facebook Privacy Practices

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FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2019, file photo California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, right, flanked by Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. California attorney general says he has been investigating Facebook's privacy practices since 2018. Becerra offered few details about the probe and said he was disclosing it only because his office was making a public court filing to force Facebook to answer its subpoenas, which Becerra said Facebook has failed to respond adequately do. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

MENLO PARK (AP) — California’s attorney general disclosed an ongoing probe into Facebook privacy practices Wednesday as investigators sought a court’s help in getting documents and answers from Facebook.

The California probe, one of many legal inquiries into Facebook, began as a response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and grew into an investigation into whether Facebook has misrepresented its privacy practices, deceived users and broken California law.

Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm, gathered details on as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission. The Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion this summer for privacy violations in an investigation that also grew out of that scandal.

On Wednesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra offered few details about the probe. He said he was disclosing it because his office was making a public court filing to force Facebook to answer a June subpoena and interrogatories.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Becerra’s office made a second request for information after Facebook took a year to respond to an initial subpoena, according to a filing with the state Superior Court in San Francisco. His office sought such information as communications among executives related to developers’ access to user data, the relationship between ad spending and access to data, the introduction of new privacy features and privacy-related news stories.

“Facebook broadly refuses to answer the interrogatories or comply with the subpoena,” the filing said.

The filing said Facebook hasn’t given answers for 19 of the attorney general’s questions and hasn’t given any new documents in response to six document requests. It has refused to search the emails of top executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in response to the second subpoena.

The filing says Facebook isn’t just dragging its feet, but isn’t complying with subpoenas and questions.

California hadn’t joined a separate probe involving attorneys general from New York and other states. The New York probe is looking into Facebook’s dominance and any resulting anticompetitive conduct.

California is also a holdout in a separate probe into Google’s market dominance.

Facebook’s various legal troubles have yet to make a significant financial dent on the company. Even the FTC’s $5 billion fine, the largest ever for a tech company, came to just under one-tenth of Facebook’s revenue last year. The penalty was criticized by consumer advocates and a number of public officials as being too lenient.

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