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Why a Republican Senator wants the FTC to throw the book on Facebook



  Facebook founder, chairman, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg resigns after witnessing a combined Senate Court and Trade Committee tribunal in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018, in Washington, DC.
Magnify / Facebook founder, chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg departs after witnessing before a combined Senate Judicial and Trade Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018, in Washington DC .

Win McNamee / Getty Images

Two Senators, a Republican and a Democrat, urge the Federal Trade Commission to take a hard line against Facebook in their ongoing privacy settlement negotiations.

"The FTC must set a resounding precedent heard by Facebook and any other technology company that ignores the law in a rapacious quest for growth," writes Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) And Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). "The Commission should pursue deterrent monetary penalties and take vigorous responsibilities on Facebook."

Facebook is accused of breaking the terms of a 2012 personal settlement. Prior to that settlement, the FTC had charged Facebook with fraudulent customers by telling them that their data would be private and then making it public without consent. By deciding on the cost, Facebook promised to give users "clear and prominent notice" of how the data would be used and to seek the user's consent before using the data in unknown ways.

In the last couple of years, Facebook has been rocked by a number of privacy scandals. Last year, we learned that salmon rules for Facebook APIs allowed app developers to harvest user data on a large scale. The data recorders included a political consulting firm called Cambridge Analytica who also worked for the Donald Trump campaign.

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in early 2018, Facebook has become involved in a seemingly endless list of other privacy contests. We do not know which of these issues the FTC is investigating, but there seems to be a lot of material for the agency to argue that the company has not lived up to its promise to be cautious about private user data.

The FTC is shared with partisan lines

According to recent reports from The New York Times, all five of the FTC's commissioners agree that Facebook's actions guarantee a multibillion dollar penalty. However, there is a biased split between the Commission's Tripartite Republican majority and its two-member democratic minority about how difficult to get down on the social media giant.

The Republican chairman favorably favors a $ 5 billion fine and has the support of the two other Republican commissioners. In its latest quarterly results, Facebook stated that it was budgeting $ 3 billion to $ 5 billion for an expected FTC fin.

But the two Democrats consider this insufficient. They do not just want a bigger fine, they also seek to hold Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally responsible for the company's mistakes. Reports suggest that Facebook has strongly opposed this idea.

While the Republicans were able to push through a relatively mild offer along partisan lines, it could bring major political costs to the agency, since it would expose them to assault that the Republican majority is soft on abusive technology companies. For this reason, the Republican President is working hard to win support from at least one democratic commissioner.

In their letter, Blumenthal and Hawley fixed the page with the Democrats in this intra-agency fight. The couple describes a $ 5 billion fine as a "bargain" for a $ 15 billion quarterly revenue company, and they also claim that "fines alone are inadequate."

"The FTC should impose long-term limits on Facebook's collection and use of personal information," they write. "Consider setting the way for what Facebook can do with the consumer's private information, such as requiring deletion of tracking data, limiting the collection of certain types of information, restricting advertising practices, and introducing a firewall by sharing data between different products." 19659005] The Senates also support "tough responsibilities and actions for individual leaders and leadership." They note reports that the FTC considered naming Zuckerberg and arguing that "if any Facebook leader deliberately violated the consent order or violated the law, it must mention them in some further action. . "

Hawley accepts Trump's contempt for big tech [19659010] The letter reflects Hawley's distinctive brand of conservative politics. While the Republicans are generally hostile to business regulation, Hawley has long been making exceptions to major technology companies. The anti-Google commentary is featured prominently in Hawley's 2018 Senate campaign.

While this attitude puts Hawley in conflict with conservative orthodoxy, it may have a significant constituency among Republican voters. Donald Trump himself has several times attacked technology companies, including Facebook.

As technology companies have become more central to the nation's political debates, conservatives are increasingly seeing Silicon Valley in the same light as Hollywood: as a powerful, predominantly liberal cultural power attempting to marginalize conservative perspectives.

So far, most Republicans have been faithful to the free market orthodoxy, and therefore you see that the FTC's Republican majority favors a more reclining attitude in the Facebook case. The question is whether Hawley and Trump represent the future of conservatism – a future where large technology companies are not set as examples of American capitalism, but as leftist members of the cultural war.


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