An FTC probe and a lawsuit are both aimed at Facebook over its failure to protect the privacy of its users.
An FTC probe and a lawsuit are both aimed at Facebook over its failure to protect the privacy of its users.

Even a public apology and a pledge to regain public trust by implementing greater privacy protections aren't enough to fend off a probes by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Massachusetts Attorney General – and now a lawsuit by the state of Illinois filed over the weekend. 

The suit claims that Facebook “not only allowed” but also “encouraged” the kind of data collection that has landed the social media giant and Cambridge Analytica, the analytics firm that gleaned the personal data from 50 million unwitting Facebook users, in hot water.

“Cambridge Analytic deliberately misled Facebook users so it could build psychological profiles of the user and their friends, and Facebook did not stop it,” Cook County State's Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx said in a statement. “This blatant deception violated Illinois law and more importantly violated the privacy of Illinois residents. Cambridge Analytica and Facebook must be held accountable for their actions.”

The suit, which is seeking $50,000 for each Illinois user affected from both companies and $10,000 a day from Cambridge Analytica for actions affecting Illinois residents 65 or older, targets the two companies, as well as Cambridge Analytica's parent, SLC Group Limited, for what it calls a "fraudulent scheme” intended “to harvest the data of millions of American voters.”

The data analytics firm, which was used by the Trump and Brexit Leave campaigns, as well as a bevy of Republican candidates, “could access [a] nearly unlimited trove of data,” allegedly private and protected by Facebook's stated policies for users and developers, by “using Facebook's existing developer tools, an open secret that was well known to developers.”

Recasting Facebook from social media company to “the largest data mining operation in existence," the suit said the company "sought to keep developers building on its platform and provide companies with all the tools they need to influence and manipulate user behavior." Facebook seemed to add credence to those claims over the weekend when the company admitted to recording the call logs of Android users employing Messenger, though it defended "call and text history logging” as a “part of an opt-in feature for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android." 

Recording logs helps users “find and stay connected with the people [they] care about, and provides [them] with a better experience across Facebook," the company said.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivered a mea culpa last week, writing in a post, “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't then we don't deserve to serve you.”

The beleaguered CEO reportedly has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to a CNN report.

Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica, Strategic Communication Laboratories, Cambridge University Professor Aleksandr Kogan and whistleblower Christopher Wylie who first revealed that Cambridge Analytica “exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons,” as he recounted in an Observer interview. “That was the basis the entire company was built on.”