'WSJ': FTC Has Voted for $5 Billion Facebook Fine

The Wall Street Journal was reporting Friday that the Federal Trade Commission had voted to approve the anticipated Facebook fine (it said $5 billion) stemming from the FTC's investigation into its handling of user data privacy. 

Facebook had signaled to Wall Street it expected to pay up to $5 billion to settle the FTC investigation into its privacy practices. 

Responding to the report, Open Markets called the fine thoroughly inadequate. 

Related: Dems Hammer Facebook Over Doctored Pelosi Video 

“The FTC's settlement is woefully insufficient in light of Facebook’s persistent privacy violations,” said Open Markets Director of Enforcement Sally Hubbard in a statement. “The fine is a mere cost of doing business that makes breaking the law worth it for Facebook. To be effective, remedies must both curb Facebook’s widespread data collection and promote competition. Otherwise, Facebook will continue to fortify its monopoly power by surveilling users both on Facebook and off, and users can’t vote with their feet when Facebook violates their privacy.” 

Related: Sen. Hawley Unimpressed by Facebook Privacy Plans 

It was a year ago last March that the FTC confirmed it was investigating Facebook over its privacy and data security practices, saying it had "substantial concerns." Those 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.

“Given Facebook’s repeated privacy violations, it is clear that fundamental structural reforms are required," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). "With the FTC either unable or unwilling to put in place reasonable guardrails to ensure that user privacy and data are protected, it’s time for Congress to act.”

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.