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Federal investigation digs into Facebook’s data-sharing deals

Another day, another Facebook data scandal but the latest one could bring criminal charges. According to The New York Times, federal prosecutors are investigating the social network’s deals that shared user data with smartphone manufacturers. Facebook said they are cooperating with the investigation in a statement.

A grand jury in the Eastern District of New York subpoenaed records from at least two smartphone companies concerning deals the companies made with Facebook for data sharing. The investigation comes after reports last year of the social network sharing personal data with smartphone and tablet companies and developers.

In some cases, Facebook shared the data without straightforward consent from the users, the Times reports. While the two or more companies that are part of the investigation are not named, earlier reports showed that Facebook sent user data to Microsoft Bing, Amazon, Apple, and others.

The data sharing could be a violation of Facebook’s agreement with the Federal Trade Commission from 2011. Facebook, however, says that a clause in the agreement permitted sharing data with service providers, which the company says allowed the partnerships. Many of those partnerships have already been discontinued. Facebook is already facing investigation from the FTC after last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.

While Facebook confirmed the investigation, The New York Times says the focus of the investigation isn’t clear, while details like how long the investigation has been going on are also unknown.

Facebook’s data policies have come under intense scrutiny after users realized data firm Cambridge Analytica bought data from quizzes. Since then, users have downloaded their Facebook data only to find the network saved a surprising amount of information about them. Hackers have pointed out the amount of data third-party quizzes could access as the network began limiting access and auditing apps accessing user data. Recently, the network was criticized for a research app that paid users $20 a month for their data, including private messages.

In response to the latest privacy scandals, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently shared plans for the network moving toward “a privacy-focused platform.” The shift could see the network prioritize private messaging, like on WhatsApp, and ephemeral posts like Stories. The company’s business model could also change to allow the company to earn more from services like ecommerce instead of data collection.

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