OMI Seeks Hill Investigation of FTC

The Open Markets Institute (OMI) is pushing Congress to investigate the Federal Trade Commission over press reports that its expected settlement with Facebook over data protection issues does not go far enough.

Related: Wyden Says FTC Should Hold Zuckerberg Liable

The FTC has confirmed it is whether Facebook is complying with the terms of an earlier (2011) settlement, but at press time no new settlement, or terms, had been announced.

Facebook signaled in financial statements last week that it expects to have to pay at least $3 billion (and as much as $5 billion) to settle a Federal Trade Commission investigation into whether it violated a 2011 consent degree related to its data privacy practices.

Related: FTC Getting Hill Privacy Once-Over

“The FTC has failed time and again to use its power to protect the interest of American citizens,” said Open Markets Fellow Matt Stoller in a statement. “An institution which does not meaningfully use its authority to uphold the law, protect democracy, and serve the public interest should not receive public money. Taxpayer dollars can be better used to support state attorneys general and other enforcers willing to do their job.”

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 Facebook Fine 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.