Federal prosecutors are investigating Facebook’s data deals with phonemakers

Federal prosecutors are pursuing a criminal investigation into Facebook’s data deals it made with large tech companies, The New York Times reported today.

According to the Times, a grand jury in New York has been conducting the investigation and subpoenaed records from “at least two” large companies that make smartphones. The companies struck deals with Facebook to access user data like friend lists and contact information, without explicit consent from its users.

“It has already been reported that there are ongoing federal investigations, including by the Department of Justice,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Verge. “As we’ve said before, we are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously. We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged that we will continue to do so.”

The deals were first reported last June, after the Times had discovered that Facebook was sharing user data with manufacturers like Apple, Samsung and Blackberry. The deals were made in order to help Facebook build apps for companies’s respective devices. The move was meant to help both Facebook and the companies building the devices people used to access Facebook products. It’s unclear if these companies are the ones currently under investigation by the prosecutors.

It’s also unclear when the investigation had begun or when the grand jury was empaneled. Facebook has been under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for several months following its Cambridge Analytica scandal that resulted in a third-party research app obtaining the data of roughly 87 million Facebook users. It’s been reported that Facebook will likely face a multi-billion dollar fine due to the scandal and the subsequent data breaches that occurred.

The Justice Department also began a Cambridge Analytica-specific investigation into Facebook. Following the scandal, US lawmakers held hearings and began to press tech company executives on their data practices. Leaders in Congress have called for overarching data privacy legislation to be passed later this year.

Just last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would be pivoting to a privacy-first model while merging the underlying infrastructure of its messaging apps.

Updated 3/13/19 8:50 p.m. ET: Updated to include a statement from Facebook.