DoJ Investigations – Why Facebook Deserves To Face The Music
There are several things wrong with the way Silicon Valley is functioning. Granted, it has been a beacon of economic growth and productivity in the US economy in recent years. The innovative and competitive spirit of the industry there has helped us maintain a technological edge over the rest of the world.
But unrestricted growth and power come with its own pitfalls. Conservatism is deeply rooted in a healthy suspicion of anything that concentrates power in one place, be it the government or private business monopoly. Now we have these tech companies that have grown so big so fast, that it looks like at least some of them consider themselves above and beyond our laws and norms.
Facebook is an example of this malaise at the heart of the US tech industry. Like many of its peers, the tech giant prides itself of being a bastion of the so-called “liberal and progressive values.” At the same time, it has a decidedly illiberal attitude towards freedom of speech, especially with regards to conservative voices.
But the real can of worms is the way these tech companies have been profiting from the private data of its users. And Facebook is the worst of the lot if the controversies and revelations from the past few years have even a kernel of truth inside them all. With multiple Federal agencies and departments investigating the company, and Federal prosecutors shooting subpoenas at its partners, it looks like a day of reckoning is fast approaching for Facebook.
The DoJ is Probing Criminal Angles in Latest Investigation
Ever since the uproar surrounding Cambridge Analytica allegations in 2018, Facebook has been under the scanner of at least three different Federal agencies – the FTC, the SEC, and the DoJ and FBI.
The Department of Justice has been probing the criminal angle in how a firm like Cambridge Analytica was allowed access to private user data by Facebook. That investigation, launched by the securities fraud unit of DoJ, is being handled by prosecutors from the Northern District of California. It is focused primarily on Facebook’s links to the now defunct British political consulting firm.
Recent reports by the New York Times indicate that a new front has been opened by Federal prosecutors in New York Eastern District. The focus this time seems to be on Facebook’s deals with many tech companies, including Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. Since this is an ongoing investigation, next to nothing has been revealed by the DoJ or the prosecutor’s office.
But the prosecutors have used a grand jury to subpoena at least two unnamed smartphone manufacturers, according to inside sources. Both these firms were provided access to user data as part of their business deals with Facebook.
And according to NY Times reports, the access remained active long after the deals expired. If that is true, this would be a serious indictment of the gross negligence and incompetence with which Facebook seems to have handled private data of its users. It could realistically result in criminal charges against the company.
Staring at Billion Dollar Fines from the FTC
Of the remaining two agencies, the Federal Trade Commission investigation seems to have entered its endgame phase. Ever since its early years, Facebook has had several run-ins with the FTC over its handling of personal data belonging to US citizens. Back in 2011, the company reached a settlement with the FTC, promising several things regarding the issue of privacy.
Under this agreement, the company was obligated to gather explicit consent from users before sharing their data with third parties. The FTC investigations into the Cambridge Analytica deal has widened to include other deals and partnerships Facebook entered after 2011.
That investigation is expected to wrap in the coming weeks or months, with a hefty fine on the card for Facebook. Reported to run into billions of dollars, the fine would be the largest ever levied on a tech company by the FTC. In comparison, the current record is held by Google, which paid a measly 22 million dollars in 2012.
The SEC Probe Could Put Zuckerberg in Legal Jeopardy
The SEC probe, started in the aftermath of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to the Congress in 2018, presents another minefield to the company and its founder. As a publicly traded company, Facebook has numerous legal obligations to its shareholders and investors.
Any public statement made by the company or its officials would fall under the ambit of financial fraud laws. If the agency finds that Facebook withheld vital information regarding privacy breaches from the public, fines and even criminal charges could be leveled against the company, and Zuckerberg himself.
What conflates matters further, is the presence of multiple investigations from other agencies. If any of them finds out irregularities on part of the company, that would make things worse for Facebook in the SEC investigations.
Why these Facebook Investigations Are Important
Ever since news of the Cambridge Analytica scandals hit the news cycle, Facebook has been at the center of a political maelstrom. Progressives and Democrats have been bending the narrative to suit their agenda, which is that the GOP and Trump campaign used illegal means to win the 2016 election.
The investigations initiated by the Department of Justice in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal is crucial. Make no mistake, a crime was committed in the run-up to the elections. But it was not by the Trump campaign or the conservative activists. It was the shoddy way in which Facebook handled its user data, providing third parties access to it without the explicit permission of the users.
Targeted political ads have been a part and parcel of democracy in the US for a long time. Both the Dems and the GOP have banked on it in numerous elections. In fact, Obama used it very effectively,with the inside help from Facebook staff, in 2012. Contrary to what many in the media and progressive circles say, there was nothing unusual about such ad being a part of the Trump election strategy.
But to credit the entire victory to just targeted political ads, and to focus entirely on one consultancy firm is implausible. In the end, the Trump campaign did not even use much data from Cambridge Analytica, preferring to use RNC data instead. The progressives and the Dems are using the scandal as an excuse to cover up their loss and to attack the White House.
And Facebook is trying to wiggle its way out culpability for its own failings, by claiming that it was misled by Cambridge Analytica. That does not explain how or why Facebook themselves chose to hide the data breach from the public. It was only when it became clear that the news would break that the company decided to come clean. That itself smacks of a degree of guilt.
There is no love lost between Facebook and conservatives. The social media platform has been busy on a crusade against right-wing thinkers and ideologues in recent years, silencing them under an excuse of “fighting fake news.” Even pro-life, pro-Trump, and pro-Second Amendment content is being blocked as “hate speech”.
It is clear whose side the company is on. Instead of fighting so-called fake news, what they are indulging in is a fight to maintain a facade of fake neutrality, while silencing the views of those who don’t belong to their progressive, leftist ideologies. They should not be allowed to get away scot-free from their crimes. And it is now up to the Feds and the current administration to see to it that they don’t.