The New York Attorney General’s office has announced the launch of an investigation into Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) over allegations that the company has harvested users’ email contact data without their consent. The practice reportedly took place from May 2016 onwards, and 1.5 million users were affected.
In a statement, the New York Attorney General said: “Facebook’s announcement that it harvested 1.5 million users’ email address books, potentially gaining access to contact information for hundreds of millions of individual consumers without their knowledge, is the latest demonstration that Facebook does not take seriously its role in protecting our personal information.”
The email harvesting practice was uncovered earlier this month. While email verification is a standard practice for many companies, Facebook requested for some users to provide the password to their personal email accounts when signing up to Facebook for the first time. Facebook was then able to access their contact lists, using the data for ad-targeting purposes and to enhance its social connections web.
Facebook says the practice was unintentional. Facebook claims to have previously notified users it would access their contact data, but changes to its systems removed this warning while leaving the feature intact. The company says that it is now in the process of deleting this contact information. A spokesperson for Facebook said in a statement, “We’re in touch with the New York State Attorney General’s office and are responding to their questions on this matter.”
Facebook has been facing mounting scrutiny over its privacy and security practices in recent years. An ongoing investigation by the Federal Trade Commission over privacy issues is expected to result in fines ranging from $3 billion to $5 billion. The company is also facing investigations in Europe and Canada has expressed concerns that its business practices may violate the country’s laws. A Facebook spokesperson previously declined to comment on the legality of the company’s actions.