Facebook faces criminal investigation over controversial data sharing deals


Facebook is under criminal investigation for massive data deals between the social media giant and numerous world's biggest technology firms, according to a Wednesday evening report on the New York Times.

"We've provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so", it said in a statement.

"We are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously", a Facebook spokesman told the Times on Wednesday. Both companies entered into large and complex data deals with Facebook, allowing all the firms involved in the partnership to collect vast troves of information on millions of users.

News of the criminal investigation is the latest in a series of controversies surrounding the two billion-member social networking giant.

In addition to looking at the data deals, the probes focus on disclosures that the company shared the user data of 87 million people with Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm that worked with US President Donald Trump's campaign.

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The Times' report was released on Wednesday evening, while Facebook was dealing with a major outage.

Facebook responded by noting that other federal investigations are reportedly underway. But a criminal investigation would raise the stakes significantly.

The story, first reported by the New York Times, cites anonymous sources familiar with the grand jury requests. There have also been reports that the company is negotiating a multi-billion dollar fine with the Federal Trade Commission over the company's privacy failures.

In December, following the Times report, Facebook said in a blog entry that these partnerships were necessary to enable certain social features in outside apps, like logging into a Facebook account from a Windows phone, or sharing what Spotify song you were listening to via Facebook Messenger. At the time, the company strongly disputed that these data partnerships violated users' privacy or the company's 2012 settlement with the FTC.

Numerous partnerships ended years ago, the Times noted, but the deals with Amazon and Apple were ongoing at the time of the story.