The FTC settled two high-profile cases with Google and Facebook this week, but in both cases the technology giants got off without having to admit any wrongdoing in the cases. Google simply will pay its $22.5 million fine, while Facebook' privacy policies will be assessed by a third party every two years, among a number of other restrictions — but terms of the settlement mean that both companies are exempt from owning up to the behaviors that got them into trouble in the first place. In the wake of these high-profile cases, the New York Times is reporting that the FTC is planning to re-examine the practice of letting companies settle without admitting guilt.
One of the driving forces around any potential changes appears to be FTC commissioner J. Thomas Rosch, who dissented from both the Facebook and Google settlements last week. He reportedly agreed with the general guidelines of Facebook's settlement, but disagrees with the FTC's language that states that a settlement "does not constitute an admission" of guilt. Rosch believes that the current system is "inviting denials of liability in every case in the future," and instead pointed to the Security and Exchange Commission's policy as a better solution. It states that a refusal to admit is equivalent to denying the allegations, unless a defendant says that he "neither admits or denies" the allegation — a rule that would disallow the FTC's current policy.
Rosch's fellow FTC commissioners disagree with his stance that not requiring an admission of guilt undermines the settlement, but also said they were open to discussing changes to the policy. Specifically, the comissioners noted they want to "avoid any possible public misimpression that the commission obtains settlements when it lacks reason to believe that the alleged conduct occurred." While Google and Facebook may have not had to completely own up to their behaviors, companies entering into future settlements might not be so lucky.