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Facebook could reportedly face multibillion-dollar FTC fine over privacy violations

Facebook could reportedly face multibillion-dollar FTC fine over privacy violations


Advocates requested a larger fine last month

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook and officials at the Federal Trade Commission are in discussions right now negotiating a multibillion-dollar fine to settle the agency’s investigation into the company’s past privacy practices, according to The Washington Post. It would be the largest fine the FTC has ever levied on a tech company. But according to the Post, the fine’s specific amount has yet to be determined.

As it stands, the largest fine ever imposed by the FTC was a $22.5 million penalty on Google back in 2012 after regulators determined the search giant had tracked users of Apple’s Safari web browser after saying explicitly that it wouldn’t do so.

That same year, Facebook entered into a consent decree with the FTC, agreeing that it would no longer deceive its users by telling them that certain information on their profiles would remain private. The fee would likely be a consequence of breaches like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the company was found negligent in its oversight of the ways third-party applications access user data on the platform. In the case of Cambridge Analytica, around 87 million users had their private information accessed by the political consulting firm after it was collected by an app maker and then packaged and sold.

Facebook and the FTC are negotiating to determine the amount of the fine

The FTC first opened its investigative probe into Facebook last March after the Cambridge Analytica breach and other subsequent breaches, like one where a hacker was able to access data from 29 million accounts in the following months. If both Facebook and the FTC do not come to some kind of agreement over the fine, the agency could choose to bring Facebook to court over its past negligence concerning user privacy.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that the FTC could push for a fine larger than the $22 million it imposed on Google for Facebook, but privacy and civil rights advocates argued that anything in the millions would be ineffective in persuading the massive social networking company to correct its behavior. Organizations like the Open Market Institute and Color of Change wrote to the FTC requesting that it bump up the fine to at least $2 billion.

According to this new report, they may get their wish. It’s unclear whether the FTC would request Facebook divest its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp as a part of the deal. Likely, Facebook would refuse to do so, and the two bodies would be faced with a lengthy run through the courts as a result.