According to a report by the Washington Post, Facebook is negotiating a monetary settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to avoid going to court. The parties have yet to agree on the amount, but the fine is expected to be a multi-billion dollar figure.
Both Facebook and the FTC have declined to comment; the WaPo story is based on two people familiar with the probe who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
We had previously reported on this story; the new report sheds more light into the issue, namely, the size of the fine.
The investigation is chiefly focused on determining Facebook’s culpability in the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal, which, to say the least, exposed the social network’s utter incompetence in protecting the privacy of its users. In case you’re unfamiliar, the scandal involved a political consulting firm – Cambridge Analytica – accessing the personal data of 87 million Facebook users without their consent or even knowledge.
In addition to the above-mentioned scandal, the investigation is also looking into a number of other privacy-related incidents, all of which violate of a 2011 agreement made between the FTC and Facebook in which the latter had agreed to improve its privacy practices, namely, to be more transparent and seek express consent when it comes to sharing the personal data of its users with third parties. Facebook maintains that it did not breach that agreement.
If a settlement is reached, Facebook will not only have to pay a record fine, but it will also have to change some of its business practices. The punishment could also include imposing rigorous checkups on Facebook’s compliance with the settlement according to the Post’s sources. If the parties fail to agree, the matter would end up in federal court.
A Moment of Reckoning
With the seemingly never-ending slew of privacy ‘mishaps’, a hefty fine would do well to persuade Facebook to prioritize online privacy. The largest fine ever imposed by the FTC on a tech company that failed to protect consumer data was a measly $22.5 million penalty levied against Google in 2012. Last year, Facebook was fined £500,000 for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal by regulators in the United Kingdom.
It’s really hard to imagine that such fines, which feel like pennies to companies of this magnitude, will have any meaningful, lasting effect. If it were to pass, a multi-billion dollar penalty would finally teach Facebook a lesson; its shockwaves will reverberate all across Silicon Valley as well.