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FTC Confirms Investigation Into Facebook

In the wake of recent revelations regarding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC” or the “Commission”) has publicly confirmed an investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices. On March 26, Tom Pahl, Acting Director of the FTC’s  Bureau of Consumer Protection, issued the following statement posted on the FTC  website.

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.

This “non-public investigation” — which the FTC now has effectively publicized — is the latest in a series of challenges Facebook has faced in recent weeks.

Ironically, however, the FTC’s own announcement underscores the pervasiveness of Facebook and may invite the very privacy concern that the FTC seeks to address. At the bottom of the announcement, the FTC asks the public to “Like the FTC on Facebook,” with a link to the Commission’s own Facebook page. As of this writing, the FTC has nearly 69,000 “likes” on its Facebook page and an equivalent number of followers. By way of comparison, the Department of Justice page has over 349,000 “likes” and followers, and the White House has over 8.3 million “likes” and followers. Although these observations are lighthearted, they are a reminder that Facebook is a powerful force that even the U.S. Government uses as a platform for public outreach.

We will report back on further developments as information becomes available.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.