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Cynthia Coffman among attorneys general demanding answers from Facebook on data harvest

Author: Ernest Luning - March 27, 2018 - Updated: March 27, 2018

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during preparation for the Facebook Communities Summit in Chicago. Zuckerberg embarked on a rare media tour in the wake of a privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining firm. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

DENVER — Attorneys general from 37 states and territories, including Colorado’s Cynthia Coffman, joined the clamor Monday calling on Facebook to explain its privacy policies and business practices, including how personal data belonging at least 50 million users wound up in the hands of a firm tied to the Trump campaign.

The pressure from the bipartisan group of chief law enforcement officers came the same day the Federal Trade Commission said it was investigating the company, and the Senate Judiciary Committee became the third congressional panel summoning Facebook founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify about how the internet giant handles its users’ data.

“Colorado consumers deserve answers from Facebook regarding their data collection practices, which have raised serious concerns about protecting consumer privacy,” said Coffman, a Republican candidate for governor, in a statement.

“Simply downloading an app should never mean that consumers give up their right to control what happens to their personal data or their friends’ personal data, nor does it mean that they have consented to having their every move tracked and their information sold to third parties for profit.”

Facebook has come under fire following revelations that data firm Cambridge Analytica got data on millions of Facebook’s users when some of them downloaded a psychological quiz that gave the campaign firm access to their friends’ personal data at the same time.

A tech news site also reported that Facebook collected detailed information about telephone calls and text messages sent by Android users, raising further alarms about the company’s privacy policies.

“These revelations raise many serious questions concerning Facebook’s policies and practices, and the processes in place to ensure they are followed,” the letter signed by the attorneys general said. It went on to ask a series of questions about how the social network site operates, including when Facebook learned about the data breach and what other apps were able to “access the data of unsuspecting Facebook users” during the period it was available.

“Facebook apparently contends that this incident of harvesting tens of millions of profiles was not the result of a technical data breach; however, the reports allege that Facebook gave away the personal data of users who never authorized these developers to obtain it, and relied on terms of service and settings that were confusing and perhaps misleading to its users,” the letter read.

In a statement, Facebook’s vice president for state and local public policy, Will Castleberry, said, “The attorneys general across the country have raised important questions and we appreciate their interest. Our internal review of the situation continues and we look forward to responding.”

Cambridge Analytica claims in documents obtained by the Washington Post that it and a partner firm advised campaigns and political groups in a number of states in the 2014 election, including five Republican state Senate candidates in Colorado.

The firm claims to have “made a demonstrable contribution toward Republican victories in three of the five districts.” It said it worked with Colorado state Sen. Bill Cadman and the Senate Majority Fund to support Republican candidates in four of the districts.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.