Facebook's data-sharing deals reportedly under criminal probe

Chip Somodevilla  Getty Images North America

Chip Somodevilla Getty Images North America

United States prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into Facebook's practice of sharing users' data with companies without letting the social network's members know, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

A grand jury in NY has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices, the paper reported without naming them, citing two people familiar with the requests.

Facebook is facing a slew of lawsuits and regulatory inquiries over its privacy practices, including ongoing investigations by the US Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and 2 state agencies in NY.

The Times had previously reported on its finding that Facebook had partnered with companies, including smartphone makers, and allowed them to access the private data of hundreds of millions of its users without their permission - and even in ways that appear to have intentionally avoided asking for permission.

News of the criminal investigation is the latest in a series of controversies surrounding the two billion-member social networking giant.

As if to underscore the company's challenges, Facebook's social network suffered one of the worst technical outages in its history on Wednesday, leaving users and advertisers unable to access the site for much of the day.

"It has already been reported that there are ongoing federal investigations, including by the Department of Justice". But a criminal investigation would raise the stakes significantly.

Facebook has allegedly ended most of the partnerships over the past two years. Since then, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has testified in front of Congress and the European Parliament to answer questions about Facebook's handling of user data.

UPDATE: March 13, 2019, 5:17 p.m. PDT In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said the company is cooperating with investigators.

Facebook admitted in June that it provided dozens of tech companies with special access to user data after publicly saying it restricted such access in 2015.

Facebook had data-sharing arrangements with more than 150 companies, according to a December report in the New York Times.