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Massachusetts Begins A Probe Into Facebook, Cambridge Analytica

NOEL KING, HOST:

Facebook is under fire after news that data belonging to around 50 million of its users got into the hands of a company tied to the Trump 2016 election campaign. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey says her office is launching an investigation into how this happened. She's on the line with us now.

Good morning.

MAURA HEALEY: Good morning.

KING: So Cambridge Analytica says it complied with Facebook's terms of service, that everything it did was aboveboard. What exactly is your investigation looking into?

HEALEY: Well, we're looking into all of this. Look, this is incredibly concerning when you have 50 million Facebook users across this country, across this world who put a lot of information online and relied, essentially, on Facebook to take reasonable steps to prevent the theft and misuse of that information. And so it appears, though we're in early stages in this investigation, that this private profile information was shared without those users knowing, without their consent. And this raises some really serious questions for us.

KING: I guess the thing I still don't understand is what was the potential crime here?

HEALEY: Well, we're looking at this from a variety of perspectives. And that's exactly why we're conducting this investigation. Obviously, there are a lot of questions that we need to have answers to, including how many people's data was shared, what information was shared, what measures were in place to limit the sharing of that information? There are laws in Massachusetts that speak to issues of data privacy and of data breach. And certainly, we're going to be looking at all of that. We're going under - to try to understand exactly what steps Facebook had in place in its operation of this gigantic platform to make sure that data wasn't being misused or misappropriated. And so as I say, we're in early stages, Noel, of this investigation, but I think it's a really important issue.

KING: Don't Facebook users largely accept and understand the risk of this platform being able to share their private data, that it's part of their business model?

HEALEY: Well, I think that most people understand that when we go online and when we participate in a social networking site, we're giving up some rights to privacy. However, the difference here is that this information that was shared doesn't appear to be legitimately obtained. And these are users, remember, who never agreed to have their information exposed in this way. So it's one thing for all of us to sign on to social networking sites. You understand that you are giving up some privacy in that.

But look at the magnitude and scope of this. Look at the degree of this invasion of privacy. Look at the misappropriation of this data. And that's why we're in this investigation. So again, we have a lot of questions that we need answers to. But essentially, this is really concerning because it appears that, really, this is the wild west when it comes to digital privacy, and we need to get a handle on it.

KING: Massachusetts is one of the main tech hubs in the country at this point. Is that why your office, in particular, is moving forward with this investigation?

HEALEY: Well, I think that we have really important relationships with technology companies. They are part of our future. And, you know, in speaking with tech companies, so many of them are very security-minded. And that's important. But what seems to be lacking here, at least on Facebook's part, is any efforts to take the kind of reasonable steps to protect our privacy, to protect our data.

KING: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Thank you so much.

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