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Pa. Attorney General Probing How Data-Mining Firm Acquired Facebook Data


Many people are raising questions about how Cambridge Analytica got its hands on the personal data of millions of Facebook users. And one of the people with questions joins us now. This is Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro. His office is looking into both companies. Hey there.

JOSH SHAPIRO: Hey, good to be with you.

KELLY: Well, we are glad to have you with us. What went through your mind when you first heard about all this?

SHAPIRO: Well, just deeply troubled by this. You know, I've made protecting consumer information a cornerstone of the work I do in the Pennsylvania attorney general's office. And as soon as I saw these reports, I immediately instructed my team to begin reviewing it, to get right on it. And look; I take the use of consumer data very, very seriously, and protecting Pennsylvania consumers' personal information is really a top priority.

KELLY: So to be clear, you all are reviewing. You haven't launched a formal investigation at this point. But what would be the crime here? I mean, what specific laws are you looking at that might have been violated?

SHAPIRO: Look; consumers using Facebook deserve to know where their data's going and what it's being used for. And the reason that I would stop at just saying we're looking into it now and not yet say that we've launched an investigation is because at this juncture what we're really reviewing is the terms of service agreement between Facebook and its users, me and...


SHAPIRO: ...The other, you know, millions of people out there, particularly the users here in Pennsylvania because look; by Facebook's act of giving that data to the researcher, by passing the data along to that researcher, I want to know whether or not that violated the terms of service that we all sign up for when we use Facebook. If in fact there was a violation or we conclude that there's reason to believe that there was a violation, then I think you could see us launching a full-fledged investigation.

KELLY: Let me drill down on this, this question of the terms of service because Facebook has come out and definitively said this was not a data breach. No passwords were hacked. No information was stolen. No systems were infiltrated. From a legal point of view, does that matter?

SHAPIRO: It really doesn't. You can have a non-existence of a data breach as Facebook says but still have a breach of the terms of service. And that's a really important distinction. Look; it's one of the reasons why we'll be sitting down with Facebook later this week to really drill down on what they believe occurred. But you're correct in raising the issue of a data breach. This isn't Equifax, which we are leading the national investigation on, where data was hacked into and stolen. This is really a question of whether or not the terms of service that Facebook users agreed to were violated, and whether they were violated by Facebook allowing this information to get into the hands of the researcher and ultimately Cambridge Analytica.

KELLY: I mean, as we - anybody who has a Facebook account knows, when you sign up to get that account, you have to give consent. You agree to share private information with Facebook. You know, I think in the 21st century we all understand there's some risk. Is part of this that people need to wise up, need to make sure we opt for all the privacy controls we can possibly check yes to, and then understand maybe something's going to leak?

SHAPIRO: People should always be mindful of what terms of service they agree to whether it's with Facebook or any other company. But you see, I'm going to hold Facebook accountable to those terms. And I can't believe that those terms allow for users' data to ultimately be used in the way they were by Cambridge Analytica. But I - to answer your question directly, I don't think that the American people should be forced to accept the fact that maybe some of their data will be lost at some point or maybe some of their data could be compromised and used for other purposes. If you sign up to have your data used in a particular way, you should have confidence in that user agreement.

KELLY: Josh Shapiro - he is the Democratic attorney general of Pennsylvania. Thanks so much for your time.

SHAPIRO: Great to be with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.