FTC Gets Bipartisan Shove Toward Tough Facebook Decision

Facebook has signaled it expects to pay up to $5 billion to settle an ongoing Federal Trade Commission investigation into its privacy practices, but Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Big Tech basher Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have teamed up to tell FTC Chairman Joseph Simons they want more, and not money, but instead a shot heard round the tech world.

The pair wrote Simons Monday (May 6) to ask that he wrap up the investigation and to compel "sweeping changes" given what they say has been its "pattern" of misuse and abuse of personal data.

Related: OMI Seeks Hill Investigation of FTC

They said the expected settlement will be a defining moment for the FTC, and one they want defined by tough action. "The FTC must set a resounding precedent that is heard by Facebook and any other tech company that disregards the law in a rapacious quest for growth."

"This investigation has been long delayed in conclusion – raising the specter of a remedy that is too little too late," they said, adding: "The [2011] Facebook consent decree violations have been blatant and brazen, an offensive defiance that adds insult to injury."

Blumenthal telegraphed his desire for more than just money in a tweet last week after Facebook revealed in a financial statement that it would have to be ponying up $3-5 billion to settle the FTC investigation.


Hawley has come into the Senate--he is a freshman--swinging a hammer at Big Tech in general and social media in particular. 

It was a year ago last March that the FTC confirmed it was investigating Facebook over its privacy and data security practices, saying it has "substantial concerns." Those have likely only increased with subsequent revelations, including congressional concerns about its research project that incentivized teens and others to give up info (Project Atlas) and news that the company was sharing data with big tech and is planning to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.

The FTC investigation followed the revelation that Cambridge Analytica had used Facebook user data without their knowledge to build profiles it then sold to political campaigns, including the Trump campaign. Analytica reportedly used the information with most users having not given their permission for Facebook to share it with a third party.

Related: OMI Says  Multi-BIllion Dollar Facebook Fine Is Not Enough

Facebook is under an FTC consent decree dating from its 2011 settlement of FTC 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 commission was investigating whether Facebook had violated that agreement

That consent decree required Facebook to obtain a users' permission before sharing data, so that Cambridge Analytica data dump appeared to be a violation of the agreement.

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.