Report: Facebook, FTC, Negotiating Multi-Billion Dollar Fine

The Washington Post is reporting that Facebook and the FTC are negotiating over a potential multi-billion dollar settlement of the
FTC's investigation into how Facebook treats user data.

If so, it would dwarf the $22.5 million Google paid to settle an FTC claim it had misrepresented privacy protections.

It was a year ago next month 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 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.

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 appeared to some inside the Beltway to be a violation of the agreement.

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

The Justice Department is under pressure to investigate Big Tech over how it got so big and how it uses that power, and has signaled it could do just that.

“We are cooperating with officials in the US, UK, and beyond," Facebbok has consistently said, according to a spokesperson who declined to comment on the story. "We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues.” 

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.