By SUMMER BALLENTINE, Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley demanded information from Facebook on Monday following allegations that the social media giant mishandled user data.
The Republican Senate candidate said his office issued a civil investigative demand, which functions like a subpoena, seeking details on how Facebook collects, shares and protects user information. The request follows revelations that a consulting firm affiliated with President Donald Trump’s campaign got data on millions of unsuspecting Facebook users.
At least three other state attorneys general — in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — are investigating Facebook for potential privacy violations. The Missouri review focuses on potential violations of the state’s consumer protection laws, and noncompliance with such demands can lead to misdemeanor charges in Missouri, although Facebook could fight the request in court.
“I want to know: Does Facebook truly disclose to its users the kind of data that it collects?” Hawley said during a press conference in his Jefferson City office. “Does it disclose how it uses this information? Does it disclose how it shares this information?”
Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president of state and local public policy, said in a statement Monday that the company looks forward to responding “when we receive the details of his request.”
Hawley was among 37 attorneys general who signed a letter last week asking Facebook how it monitored what app developers did with the data collected on users and whether Facebook had safeguards to prevent misuse, though that request did not carry the force of law. The Federal Trade Commission is also investigating.
While it doesn’t technically sell user data, Facebook allows advertisers to target people based on their activity on and off the service. This includes interests users share on Facebook, such as their location, gender or whether they recently married or divorced. It also includes activity on other websites and apps, as well as information that can be inferred about people even if they don’t directly share it on Facebook, such as their political leanings, religion or ethnicity.
The Missouri demand requests what type of information Facebook shared with consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, any contracts or agreements Facebook has with the firm, and the number of Missouri Facebook users whose information — and what information — was given to the firm.
Hawley’s review also seeks information related to criticism the company faces for collecting years of data on call and text histories from Android users, as well as details on political campaigns with which the company has shared user data. The demand specifically cites former President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Hawley, a Republican seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill this year, said Monday that his Senate campaign didn’t influence his decision to review Facebook.
The attorney general’s office set a May 29 deadline for Facebook to answer the request.
Hawley’s office last year issued civil investigative demands to Google for potential violations of consumer-protection and antitrust laws related to what the tech giant does with the user information it collects and allegations that it inappropriately scrapes information from competitors’ websites. It’s also looking into allegations that the company manipulates search results to favor its own websites over competitors’ sites, an issue that has been the subject of scrutiny in Europe.
The Missouri Democratic Party has repeatedly criticized Hawley for accepting $5,400 in campaign donations from Google critic Peter Thiel days before launching the Google investigation.
On Monday, Hawley said those criticisms are “just nonsense.” He said his office still is gathering information from Google related to that review.
Associated Press writer Barbara Ortutay contributed to this report from New York City.