Ex-FTC CTO Says He Thinks Facebook Violated Consent Decree

The former chief technologist of the Federal Trade Commission says he thinks Facebook has violated the terms of its 2011 consent decree with the commission and should be fined accordingly.

That came in testimony before a Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Facebook's sharing of user information with Cambridge Analytica.

Ashkan Soltani, now a consultant, was asked by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) whether he thought that either the Cambridge Analytica "debacle" or Facebook's sharing of info with device manufacturers violated that 2011 data privacy related decree, he said yes.

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Asked if he thought they should be fined, he said yes but warned that historically, the fines for similar violations have only been in the millions of dollars--$22.5 million for Google Safari, for example--and that those would not have much impact on a company with $40 billion in annual revenues, as Facebook has.

Markey said he agreed, and that the fines should be substantial, otherwise it would be like a "parking ticket."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he, for one, was convinced Facebook had violated the consent decree.

Facebook is under an FTC consent decree dating from its 2011 settlement of allegations it deceived consumers by not keeping its privacy promises. The FTC is authorized to enforce such pledges under its Sec. 5 (unfair and deceptive practices) authority.

The FTC is currently investigating Facebook's recent data sharing issues.

The FTC is in the spotlight when it comes to overseeing online privacy since it is getting primary responsibility for both ISP and edge practices with the reclassification of internet access as an information service under the FCC's network neutrality reg rollback.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.