A statement by the acting director of the group read, “the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook.”
Rob Sherman, deputy chief privacy officer for Facebook said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, "we remain strongly committed to protecting people’s information. We appreciate the opportunity to answer questions the FTC may have.”
Part of the investigation will be to see if they violated Privacy Shield, a compliance program across the US and Europe for handling user privacy and data. It’s possible that an investigation could lead to enforcement action and fines for Facebook. A representative for FTC told BuzzFeed News the agency had no additional comment on the investigation.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has been dinged by the FTC over user privacy. In 2011, Facebook and the FTC reached a settlement over charges that it deceived its users in a variety of ways, including: sharing posts that were marked “Friends Only” with third-party apps, storing data after users deleted their accounts, and sharing user data with advertisers after promising it wouldn’t. As part of the settlement, Facebook had to agree to several measures of transparency about user privacy, including "giving consumers clear and prominent notice and obtaining their express consent before sharing their information beyond their privacy settings," preventing anyone from accessing data from deleted accounts, and getting a third-party privacy checkup every two years.
The user data taken by a researcher through a quiz app that was later sold to Cambridge Analytica happened in 2014, years after the FTC settlement. "Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements," according to a statement in Monday's FTC release.
Here is the full statement by Tom Pahl, acting director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection:
The FTC is firmly and fully committed to using all of its tools to protect the privacy of consumers. Foremost among these tools is enforcement action against companies that fail to honor their privacy promises, including to comply with Privacy Shield, or that engage in unfair acts that cause substantial injury to consumers in violation of the FTC Act. Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook. Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices.
Updated to include statement from Rob Sherman of Facebook.