Government & Politics

Missouri AG Hawley to probe what Facebook has been doing with users’ personal data

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley File

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley launched an investigation into Facebook on Monday, demanding that the social media company disclose each time it shared users’ personal data with a political group.

According to a civil investigative demand, which functions like a subpoena, Hawley’s office wants Facebook to turn over how much campaigns paid Facebook for users’ personal data, as well as whether users were notified.

The company faces a May 29 deadline to respond.

Hawley said his office hopes to find out whether Facebook exercised appropriate care and protection over private consumer data; whether its terms and conditions adequately explain how consumer data will be used; and whether Facebook responded appropriately to reports of third parties mishandling user data.

The investigation also will try to determine whether the Facebook app, while being used on Android phones, collected detailed information about cell phone usage without consent.

“There is no excuse for this irresponsible handling of user data,” Hawley said. “Missourians need to know that they can trust the companies and platforms that have access to as much user information as Facebook does.”

The investigation will be conducted under the umbrella of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, a law that prohibits deceptive and unfair practices in business. It follows reports that a British technology firm called Cambridge Analytica harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.

Hawley is requesting a timeline of Facebook’s interaction with Cambridge Analytica.

What are you sharing publicly on Facebook? Who has access to your data on the platform? Users are asking themselves these questions in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data breach. You can follow these steps to take back some measure of control.

Authorities in Britain and the United States are investigating whether Cambridge Analytica may have used the improperly obtained data to try to influence elections, including the 2016 presidential race.

Cambridge Analytica worked for the Donald Trump campaign, earning more than $5.9 million in 2016, according to Federal Election Commission filings, and for the “Brexit” campaign in the United Kingdom.

Numerous members of Congress paid the company for its services during the 2016 election cycle.

Cambridge Analytica received about $5.8 million from the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz, whose consultant was the Missouri-based Republican Jeff Roe. It received $12,000 from the campaign of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who paid the company in 2015 for data services in the run-up to his 2016 race for re-election.

U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley spoke on March 13, 2018, at Dynamic Fastener in Raytown.

Hawley, who is running for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, is also looking at President Barack Obama’s use of Facebook in 2012, seeking all communications and documents about meetings Facebook had with Obama's campaign.

Hawley said it is too early to say whether his office will seek information from campaigns that worked with Cambridge Analytica.

Last fall Hawley's office launched a similar probe of Google, drawing criticism from Democrats who noted he launched the inquiry days after Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel donated to his Senate campaign. Thiel had long been an outspoken critic of Google.

But in addition to being one of the biggest donors to Hawley's 2016 attorney general campaign — to the tune of $300,000 in contributions — Thiel was also an early investor in Facebook and sits on the company's board.

Attorneys general in several other states have launched similar probes of Facebook, including New York, Massachusetts and Mississippi. Hawley noted that 37 attorneys general, including him, sent a letter to Facebook requesting answers about these issues.

"Think about the kinds of information we put on our Facebook pages," Hawley said. "Pictures of our kids. Pictures of our families. Family vacations. Pictures of our work colleagues. To think all that information and more might have been acquired by entities that we don't even know... it's really terrifying."