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FTC Investigating Facebook Amid Cambridge Analytica’s Alleged Data ‘Harvesting’

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Facebook is being investigated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after Cambridge Analytica’s alleged “harvesting” of data belonging to 50 million people.

According to a new report from Bloomberg, citing a person familiar with the matter, the probe would look into whether the social media company allowed Cambridge Analytica to receive some Facebook user data in violation of its policies.

“We are aware of the issues that have been raised but cannot comment on whether we are investigating. We take any allegations of violations of our consent decrees very seriously as we did in 2012 in a privacy case involving Google,” a spokesman for the FTC said Tuesday.

A violation of the consent decree could carry a penalty of $40,000 USD per violation, which means that Facebook could be conservatively facing several million dollars in fines.

Facebook has maintained its position that the mishandling of data was the result of abuse on the part of Cambridge Analytica and app developer Aleksandr Kogan.

“We reject any suggestion of violation of the consent decree. We respected the privacy settings that people had in place. Privacy and data protections are fundamental to every decision we make,” Facebook said in a statement to the Washington Post on Saturday.

The consent decree requires that Facebook notify users and receive explicit permission before sharing personal data beyond their specified privacy settings.

The investigation, started in recent days, adds to the mounting pressure against Facebook in the United States and in the United Kingdom about its handling of the data. Cambridge Analytica used the information to help U.S. President Trump’s presidential campaign profile voters during the 2016 election.

In 2011, Facebook was accused of having deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they would have wanted by changing some user settings without notifying users. Facebook settled that case and agreed to get user consent before making changes to privacy settings in the future.

On Tuesday morning, a committee within the British Parliament sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg asking him to appear before the panel to answer questions on the company’s connection to Cambridge Analytica.

“The committee has repeatedly asked Facebook about how companies acquire and hold on to user data from their site, and in particular about whether data had been taken without their consent,” wrote Damian Collins, chairman of the British committee. “Your officials’ answers have consistently understated this risk, and have been misleading to the committee.”

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