Facebook faces FTC, state probes; Cambridge Analytica suspends CEO

By Susan McFarland and Danielle Haynes
Congress is divided about whether to call officials at Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to Capitol Hill to testify about purported misuses of customers' data for political purposes. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
Congress is divided about whether to call officials at Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to Capitol Hill to testify about purported misuses of customers' data for political purposes. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

March 20 (UPI) -- Cambridge Analytica suspended CEO Alexander Nix on Tuesday as it faces multiple federal and state investigations for allegedly improperly accessing data from millions of Facebook users for political purposes.

The company said it was independently investigating comments Nix made in an undercover recording saying Cambridge Analytica could secretly film political rivals by arranging smear campaigns, setting up encounters with prostitutes and staging bribery situations. The data mining firm is credited with helping Donald Trump win the U.S. presidency in 2016.


"In the view of the Board, Mr. Nix's recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation," a statement from Cambridge Analytica said.

The company named Alexander Tayler as acting CEO pending the results of the investigation.


Nix said the documentary was "edited and scripted to grossly represent the nature of those conversations," and claims the conversations were led by the reporters.

"I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called 'honeytraps,' and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose," Nix said.

The news comes as multiple agencies launched investigations into how Cambridge Analytica and Facebook obtained and accessed the data of up to 50 million Facebook users.

Unnamed sources told The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post that the Federal Trade Commission is reviewing whether Facebook violated a consent decree it agreed to in 2012. The result of an FTC probe then said Facebook must notify users and get their permission before sharing their data.

Should the FTC determine that Facebook violated its consent decree, it could face millions of dollars of fines.

"We remain strongly committed to protecting people's information. We appreciate the opportunity to answer questions the FTC may have," said Rob Sherman, Facebook's deputy chief privacy officer.

And the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York announced a joint investigation into the two companies.


"Consumers have a right to know how their information is used -- and companies like Facebook have a fundamental responsibility to protect their users' personal information," said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

"New Yorkers deserve answers, and if any company or individual violated the law, we will hold them accountable."

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced her investigation over the weekend.

"Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. We are launching an investigation," she said Sunday.

A day earlier, Facebook said it suspended Cambridge because it violated the social media company's policies.

Meanwhile, there's partisan debate on Capitol Hill on what to do.

Some members of Congress want answers, calling for formal questioning of Cambridge Analytica officials as well as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who did not immediately acknowledge the possible data breach. Both companies deny wrongdoing.

Lawmakers involved in congressional investigations of Russia have called for Cambridge leaders to testify on Capitol Hill.

Last year, the firm gave the House intelligence committee documents about its work with the Trump campaign. The committee also interviewed Nix via video conference.

The panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the interviews need to continue.


"We need to bring [Nix] back. I also think we need to bring in the other witnesses from Cambridge Analytica that we had asked the majority to previously [agree to]," Schiff said, referencing Democrats' calls for interviews with other Cambridge Analytica executives and GOP donor Rebekah Mercer, whose father, Robert, helped create the political data firm.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said he does not see a need to question Cambridge Analytica further.

"I have no intention of bringing in any other witnesses for the Russia investigation," Conaway said.

Conaway deferred the decision to committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who will control whether to bring in new witnesses related to the Russia investigation after the panel issues its final report on the matter.

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