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Advocacy groups are pushing the FTC to break up Facebook

Advocacy groups are pushing the FTC to break up Facebook


But their request could fall on deaf ears

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Advocacy groups are calling for Facebook to be broken up as a result of its Cambridge Analytica scandal, subsequent privacy violations, and repeated consumer data breaches.

Groups like Open Market Institute, Color of Change, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote to the Federal Trade Commission today requesting a major government intervention into how Facebook operates. The letter outlined several moves the FTC could take, including a multibillion-dollar fine, reforming the company’s hiring practices, and most importantly, breaking up one of the most powerful social media companies for abusing its market position.

“Advocates are pushing for much stronger penalties”

Last week, it was reported that the Federal Trade Commission could seek a record-setting fine from Facebook after the company violated a 2012 government agreement, requiring it to properly disclose how a user’s personal and private information was obtained and used by the company and third parties. Facebook has acknowledged that user data was improperly obtained by Cambridge Analytica last year, violating that agreement.

But advocates are pushing for much stronger penalties for Facebook. Last week’s reporting said that the FTC could push for a fine larger than the $22 million it penalized Google with in 2012, after regulators found that the company had continued to track Apple’s Safari users after disclosing that it wouldn’t. According to organizations like Open Market Institute and Color of Change, Facebook should be required to give up $2 billion and divest ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp for failing to protect user data on those platforms as well.

“Given that Facebook’s violations are so numerous in scale, severe in nature, impactful for such a large portion of the American public and central to the company’s business model, and given the company’s massive size and influence over American consumers,” the letter reads, “penalties and remedies that go far beyond the Commission’s recent actions are called for.”

The FTC has been investigating whether Facebook violated its 2012 agreement for the better part of a year. It’s been reported that the probe is wrapping up, but the FTC is currently shut down and many employees are furloughed as Congress continues its funding discussions. Until the government shutdown ends, it’s unlikely that the FTC will make any announcement regarding the outcome of this investigation.

“I don’t think big is necessarily bad...”

Earlier this month, President Trump’s pick to head the Justice Department, William Barr, testified before Congress and faced a slew of questions involving the agency’s stance on tech. The Justice Department has played an important role when it’s come to massive telecommunications mergers, but has yet to significantly play a part in Silicon Valley.

That all could change if Barr is confirmed as attorney general. In his testimony, Barr said he would like to explore the Justice Department’s role in tech when it comes to antitrust violations. “I’d like to have the antitrust [officials] support that effort to get more involved in reviewing the situation from a competition standpoint,” Barr said. “I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder [how] these big behemoths have taken shape in Silicon Valley.”

Lawmakers have been relatively quiet on breaking up Facebook. In October, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), one of the senators at the forefront, said in an interview with The Verge that breaking up the company was more of a “last resort.”

Facebook declined to comment.

You can read the full letter here:

Advocacy Groups - FTC by Makena Kelly on Scribd