Need to do more to advance civil rights: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

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"It allowed Cambridge Analytica to purchase personal information that was improperly obtained from 70 million [individuals], including 340,000 District of Columbia residents", Racine said on a Wednesday call with reporters.

Facebook Inc. came under renewed pressure from lawmakers following a New York Times report that the social media company allowed more than 150 companies access to more users' personal data than it had disclosed. "Partnerships are one area of focus and, as we've said, we're winding down the integration partnerships that were built to help people access Facebook", he said.

Civil rights organizations are outraged after a U.S. Senate report confirmed that Russian operatives used popular social media platforms to suppress African-American votes in the 2016 presidential election. After meeting with civil rights leaders and experts, Murphy wrote in the report, Facebook chose to focus the first phase of its audit on preventing voter intimidation and suppression ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

The firm used a benign-looking quiz app to gather information on Facebook users and their friends, including names, locations, religious and political affiliations and educational backgrounds. The Times claimed that Facebook had allowed companies access to users' private messages, a severe breach of trust. Amazon got its hands on users' names and contact info. It also alleges that Facebook was aware in 2014 that the developer wanted to download the information about users' friends but "failed to monitor or audit the app".

It remains unclear, however, whether the allegations that are being made against Facebook in the District of Columbia and in other complaints were against the law at the time, said Dora Kingsley Vertenten, professor of public policy at the University of Southern California.

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The lawsuit seeks both monetary damages and a court order that would require Facebook to put in place stronger privacy controls.

He described Facebook's cooperation as "reasonable", but said that a lawsuit was necessary "to expedite change" at the company.

"We take this incredibly seriously", Sandberg said.

Mr Soltani and three former employees of the F.T.C.'s consumer protection division, which brought the case that led to the consent decree, said in interviews that its data-sharing deals had probably violated the agreement. That is a relatively small number, but the case could attract outsized attention, given it will unfold in the nation's capital, where USA lawmakers are mulling imposing new regulations restricting how much personal information Facebook and other internet companies can collect on their mostly free services.