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Sen. Cantwell Presses FTC on Facebook Settlement Info

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, wants to get a better handle on the Federal Trade Commission's July settlement with Facebook. 

She asked for that info in a letter Thursday (Oct. 10) to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons. 

“I am concerned that the settlement lets Facebook off the hook for unspecified violations, and given the many public reports of Facebook’s mishandling of consumer data, it is difficult to fully understand the impact of this provision of the settlement on the data privacy protection of the millions of U.S. consumers that have used and continue to use Facebook,” Sen. Cantwell wrote, according to a copy obtained by Multichannel News. 

Critics of the settlement, including Cantwell, are concerned it absolves the company of liability for past conduct that might not have yet been uncovered.  

Related: State AGs Investigating Facebook 

Cantwell wants information on "how [the FTC] conducted its investigation of Facebook, including the impact of Facebook’s release from liability, the impact that release has on future Commission actions, and whether the settlement really provides any true independent oversight of Facebook." 

FTC Chairman Joseph Simons has said in defense of the deal that the FTC's $5 billion settlement with Facebook was the best deal it could get with limited authority, and called on Congress to pass comprehensive privacy legislation. 

Simons said he was faced with two choices, get an "excellent" settlement, as he suggested this was, or face years of litigation that would likely achieve "far less" relief than the FTC got, which he took pains to outline. 

He called the settlement the only "real world" choice the agency had, and an "excellent" job. Simons pointed out that the $5 billion was more than 20 times that of the toughest European settlement under its GDPR privacy regime, and 200 times the previous record for a U.S. settlement. He also said it represented 9% of 2018 revenue, and 23% of 2018 profit. 

He also said the decision was laying down a marker for others dealing with consumer privacy, saying it "resets the baseline for privacy cases."