Over the last two months, nearly every state and territory has announced investigations into the market dominance of Facebook, Google, or both. Missing from those probes was the place Big Tech calls home: California.
The Golden State’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has been curiously silent as his peers made plans to examine the biggest tech firms in his backyard. Becerra’s supposed inaction garnered him a wave of negative local press, and last week led The New York Times to wonder what, exactly, his office was up to.
On Wednesday, California’s top cop finally revealed he has actually been very busy investigating Facebook, in an inquiry that has lasted for over a year. At a press conference announcing a new lawsuit, Becerra said Facebook has refused to fully cooperate with his probe. “We make our work public when there is a legal action to make public, otherwise we do not discuss our investigations,” he said.
The California attorney general is suing Facebook to turn over key information the company has allegedly failed to release, including email correspondence from both CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. The documents are connected to an 18-month investigation into the social network’s data protection and privacy practices.
The California probe began in June 2018, shortly after news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm whose clients included the Trump campaign, had accessed data on tens of millions of Facebook users. “What initially began as an inquiry into the Cambridge Analytica scandal expanded over time to become an investigation into whether Facebook has violated California law by, among other things, deceiving users and ignoring its own policies,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed in state superior court Wednesday.
Becerra said Facebook has hampered the investigation by refusing to fully cooperate with subpoenas. “If Facebook had complied with our legitimate investigative requests, we would not be making this announcement today. But we must move our investigation forward,” he added. The lawsuit notes Facebook allegedly was uncooperative as well during a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the company’s privacy practices, which resulted in a $5 billion penalty in July.
“We have cooperated extensively with the state of California’s investigation,” Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president of state and local policy, said in a statement. “To date we have provided thousands of pages of written responses and hundreds of thousands of documents.”
Facebook has been very familiar with government scrutiny lately, and just not in its own home state. The company is already facing similar investigations in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. The attorney general of New York, Letitia James, is leading a group of 46 states and territories examining the company’s market dominance and privacy practices. The FTC has opened another inquiry into the social network too, this time over antitrust concerns. You also can’t forget the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust investigation, which is looking at tech companies more generally but certainly has Facebook in its sights.
No one knows yet what each of these inquiries might mean for Facebook in the end. Some politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, have suggested breaking up Facebook by unwinding acquisitions like Instagram. In an internal meeting transcript published by the Verge last month, Zuckerberg acknowledged the way regulators have been discussing his company isn’t exactly ideal. “I think that the direction of the discussion is concerning,” he said.
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