JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley on Monday announced an investigation into Facebook, the social media behemoth which has faced criticism in recent weeks over its handling of user data prior to the 2016 election.
Hawley, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate, said he had issued a civil investigative demand to the California-based company asking for details about how data is shared with political entities and how Missourians’ data may have been compromised.
The announcement follows news that Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm hired by President Donald Trump’s campaign, improperly obtained private information connected to 50 million Facebook users. The company used the data to target Americans with digital ads before the 2016 election.
Hawley said at a Monday news conference that he was “horrified” to learn of the data collection efforts.
“You think about the kind of information we put on our Facebook page. Pictures of our kids. Pictures of our families. Family vacations. Pictures of our work colleagues. And then to think that all of that information and more might have been acquired by entities that we don’t even know. I think it’s really terrifying,” Hawley told reporters.
“The question is: What exactly is Facebook doing with this information, with whom are they sharing it, what are they doing to protect it from third parties who have access to this data?” he added.
The goal of the investigation is to determine whether the company violated Missouri’s merchandising practice statutes.
Hawley’s 11-page civil investigative demand, which is similar to a subpoena, poses dozens of questions to the company. Facebook has until May 29 to respond, according to the document.
Among the things Hawley seeks is a timeline detailing Facebook’s response after it learned Cambridge Analytica used the information, and the number of Facebook users in Missouri whose information was used by Cambridge Analytica.
According to reporting by The New York Times, a Cambridge University professor coordinated with Cambridge Analytica in 2014, turning over 50 million files to the political firm. While Facebook allows access to user data for academic purposes, the use of the data for political aims was not allowed, the company has said.
Hawley also is seeking information regarding President Obama’s 2012 campaign and its use of Facebook data at the time — something that has generated scrutiny after the Cambridge Analytica revelations.
Authorities across the globe have raised concerns similar to Hawley’s.
The Federal Trade Commission last week said it was investigating Facebook.
Germany’s justice minister said recently she wants closer oversight of companies such as Facebook, the U.K.’s Parliament has summoned Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before it, and the U.S. Congress is expected to hear from Zuckerberg soon.
The state’s attorney in Cook County, Illinois, recently sued Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, alleging consumer fraud.
In recent months, Hawley has launched investigations into Equifax and Uber following news of data breaches. In November he also announced a probe into Google to see if the company had violated the state’s anti-trust and consumer protection statutes.
Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch and The Associated Press contributed to this report.