After the months of negotiations, the Federal Trade Commission Facebook fines a record $ 5 billion on Friday for privacy violations, according to several reports. The penalty comes after a survey that lasted for over a year, marking the largest in the agency's history with an order of magnitude. If approved by the Justice Department's civilian division, it will also be the first material penalty for Facebook in the United States, where the technology industry has been largely unregulated. But Washington has taken a tougher stance against Silicon Valley lately, and Friday's announcement marks its most aggressive action yet to curb privacy violations.
Complete settlement information was unavailable Friday afternoon, and the FTC and Facebook both asked to comment. The Wall Street Journal first reported the news. It is unclear how long it will take for the Justice Department to review the terms. Meanwhile, important questions are unanswered, including whether the FTC has chosen to hold Facebook manager Mark Zuckerberg personally responsible for the company's privacy violations, and what kind of external supervision Facebook must send to in the future.
The FTC opened its investigation into Facebook's data practices last March, a week after the news broke, that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm working on the Trump campaign in 201
But in 2011, Facebook had promised the FTC that it would not share data with third parties without the users' consent, as part of a settlement agreement over costs that the company deceived consumers about privacy practices. It appears that the regulator has found that Facebook violated this consent law.
"We don't think a nice thing. We need a structural solution here."
Matt Stoller, Open Markets Institute
Some of Facebook's greatest critics had previously expressed doubts that any money could adequately punish a company with Facebook size. "They can make a very big fine, which is just a parking ticket," said Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, the counter-monopoly tank, recently told WIRED. "We don't think a good case. We need a structural solution here."
In a letter to the FTC in early May, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) claimed that the FTC should "force sweeping changes to terminate social networking patterns for the misuse and abuse of personal data. "" Personal responsibility must be recognized from the top of the corporate governance down to the product development teams, "the letter reads. "If the FTC finds that any Facebook leader deliberately violated the consent order or violated the law, it must mention them in some further steps." Regardless of whether the FTC did so, it remains one of the biggest open questions about this settlement, one made the more fascinating after recent e-mail disclosure, again in the Wall Street Journal which seems to indicate that Zuckerberg was note the company's "dubious" privacy practices.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal asked an increasing awareness of data rights in the United States, as Facebook and other tech companies were repeatedly called to respond to broken promises and errors to protect user data. The FTC's apparent decision comes amid a growing demand for more action to rein in Big Tech. In Congress, lawmakers on both sides have called for federal law to protect the privacy rights of Americans, while a number of state legislators have already gone or are considering privacy bills by themselves.
Concern over Big Tech aren't limited to privacy, either. The FTC formed a working group to examine both future and past industry mergers earlier this year, and now, along with the Ministry of Justice, is currently investigating large corporations such as Facebook and Google over antitrust issues. Massachusetts Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has proposed splitting the technology platforms that are also doing business on these platforms and reviewing previous mergers, including Facebook's acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp. A number of conservative politicians, including President Trump, have accused social media companies of liberal bias and censorship.
New details have also emerged about how Facebook had been able to make special data agreements with unit manufacturers and large companies, even after the company cracked down on data access in 2015. One such company that received extended access was the Russian Internet giant Mail.ru. Facebook has also had a massive data outbreak, revealing some 30 million accounts.
And earlier this year, TechCrunch published a report describing how an app called Research to observe every move the users made on their phones to spy on the competition. Not only that, but Facebook used a loophole to distribute the app to iPhone users, after Apple fired another, similar Facebook app, out of the App Store.
All this has triggered a change in the heart – or at least a change in public positioning – for the company. In March, Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched a privacy campaign of various kinds, first revealing in a long blog after his vision for a new type of privacy-focused social network. This social network will focus on messages so people can send end-to-end encrypted messages across Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, and move into newer areas like payments and commerce. Later that month, Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post who expressed his support for regulation focused on "harmful content, choice integrity, privacy and data portability."
"I think Facebook has a responsibility to help these issues, and I look forward to discussing them with legislators around the world," Zuckerberg wrote. "But people should not rely on some companies that take care of these issues by themselves. We should have a broader debate on what we want as a society and how regulation can help."
Facebook and other technology companies have spent many years lobbying against regulations, especially a California privacy bill and federal regulations that would have made stricter reviews of digital policy ads.
The reported FTC fine, meanwhile, does not mean the company's regulatory woes are over. Facebook is facing several surveys in the United States. The Securities and Exchange Commission launched a probe last year in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations. Earlier this year, Facebook's data dealt with other companies released a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York. The company is also facing a lawsuit by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, filed in April, over allegations that the advertising platform made it possible for discrimination against homes. When rumors of possible antitrust investigations leaked last month, the FTC reported a claim over any future, to look at Facebook. And that is before you even come to Europe, where the general data protection law has put Facebook right in the sights of EU regulators.
If approved, Friday's apparent FTC decision will set a precedent for how federal regulators plan to approach technological giants at a time of increasing awareness of computer rights. But not even $ 5 billion will affect real change without extensive reform to back it up.
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