The discovery that Facebook scraped the email contacts, without permission, of 1.5 million of its users is adding fuel to an ongoing investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into Facebook, and the regulator may focus personally on the social media company's chairman, CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, according to The Washington Post.
Facebook collected the email contacts, a data breach of consumer information not done by an outsider, but by the company itself. The siphon happened after some new users — those signing up after May 2016 — would enter their email password as part of a verification process on their social media account.
Facebook has said it's deleting the emails. But the company this same week has also admitted it stored Instagram passwords — millions of them — in "a readable format," on its servers, and not encrypted, said the company. Originally the company had admitted tens of thousands of those passwords had been left in plain text. They had to revise that number by a factor of 100.
As in other previous situations, Facebook says it will alert users of their Instagram password is one that was compromised.
Zuckerberg may be the focus
These privacy stumbles are more than a public mishap for Facebook. The company has been under investigation since the Cambridge Analytica news broke that data on 87 million Facebook users had been shared — improperly — with the consulting firm.
The U.S. Congress called CEO Mark Zuckerberg before them in 2018 — trying to understand how the breach could have happened. And their interest has not waned.
To date, both the FTC and the Department of Justice are examining how Facebook works in terms of collecting data of users, and how it upholds and protects that data. Now, two sources have told The Washington Post, that the FTC is looking at personally making Zuckerberg himself responsible for these privacy problems.
Every week a company, somewhere, reports a data breach of customer data. Sometimes this breach involves account passwords, sometimes its user names, sometimes its passport numbers or even personal addresses where people live, at home.
Facebook's privacy issues are a bit different, not caused by a hacker breaking into its servers, but user data left unencrypted, and details taken without users knowing. The trust users have in Facebook has taken a hit as a result.
Despite these concerns, the company is pushing forward with two new products — designed to work only with Facebook users — its smart displays, Portal+ and Portal. After signing in to Facebook, people can use the devices to make video calls with others they're connected to through the social network. The display can also let Facebook friends see when you're available to talk through Portal, or when you're away.
However, some early five-star reviews on Amazon of the Portal display were left by Facebook's own employees initially. Amazon is promoting Portal, because its voice assistant Alexa is used inside. Facebook is also now reportedly working on its own smart assistant, which could be placed into the smart display one day instead.
Facebook is also spending millions on TV ad campaigns for Portal, with one now running for Mother's Day that currently features Neil Patrick Harris, his mom — and those of Snoop Dogg, Venus and Serena Williams, Jonah Hill, Odell Beckham Jr. and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
In the meantime, Facebook continues to face pressure from federal regulators and even some states, which are looking to force the social media company — and other tech companies — to take their users privacy seriously, and protect it.