A new series of complaints encompassing four separate claims have now been filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Facebook by a collective of smaller groups called the Freedom from Facebook Coalition, outlining issues occurring on the platform beginning as early as 2006, The Verge reports. Referring to the company as a corporation that's "managed by apology," alluding to its frequent apologies over the past several years, the coalition begins with what it claims is a breach of a 2011 Consent Decree in 2017. Under that agreement, which was finalized in 2012, Facebook is required to establish and maintain programs to address privacy risks and to obtain "affirmative consent" from users when changing privacy policies or anything else privacy-related. Facebook is said to have specifically breached that agreement with an update to its video uploader that broke its “View As" feature, exposing access tokens of millions of users. Based on the number of users affected, the 430-day timeframe of the breach, and the pre-set $41,484 per-user per day fines laid out in the agreement, the coalition claims Facebook should owe trillions of dollars for the breach.
The remaining claims centers around that particular breach as well. The second of those alleges a breach of Section 5 of the FTC Act that prohibits deceptive or "unfair" behavior in interstate commerce. In short, the coalition claims that Facebook failed to deliver on promises made regarding its security measures and gave false assurances to its users regarding their privacy and personal information. The third claim cites Section 6 of the same Act and calls more directly for an expansion to Facebook's privacy "abuses" and its alleged monopolization of social networking as well as its rampant growth leading to "ungovernability." In summary, the group says that Facebook has simply become too big and gained too much market share to be effectively or safely overseen. In particular, the claim refers to Facebooks repeated attempts to self-govern with AI and software engineering-based solutions that fail from the start due to its deceptive practices - which the coalition claims are "baked into" Facebook's business model. Finally, the last claim seeks to encourage the FTC to pursue all available enforcement and to proactively and independently look into Facebook's practices to determine the full breadth of those beyond the previous claims.
Background: Although the primary focus of the complaints is derived from that single most recent breach, Facebook's problems stem back much further than that. As alluded to above, those have ranged from less serious breaches, such as the sharing of all user activity to every 'friend' or acquaintance via the news feed by default way back in 2006 to much more serious issues. Aside from leaking millions of user access tokens, this year also saw leaks and unauthorized redistribution of dozens of millions of users' private information to third-parties and others in the well-publicized Cambridge Analytica scandal. That was followed by other problems, even as that unraveled and CEO Mark Zuckerberg or other executives visited various government hearings to explain the breach. That included news of at least one Russia-based firm "scraping" user data from the site up until it was banned in October and still other reports that Facebook had been collecting and tracking data from its Messenger applications.
Impact: Whether or not the FTC responds in the ways outlined by the newly filed complaints, it is fairly obvious that the underlying goal is to proactively force real changes at the company and set an example for others in the tech industry. That's because the claim is asking the FTC to enforce rules that would go well beyond the standard fees enforced by other agencies and under other regulations. Since those are typically measured in millions of dollars, they obviously wouldn't have nearly the same impact on Facebook as the trillions it could face here. Meanwhile, it isn't unfeasible that the FTC granting the coalition's request and implementing the fines would have other consequences at the company too if it chooses to side with the group and take things in that direction. Several stakeholders have repeatedly called for CEO Mark Zuckerberg to step down as Chairman of Facebook's board. That isn't a guaranteed result if the fines are put in place but those would almost certainly be as good a reason as has ever been presented for a substantial internal shakeup. Given the amount of pressure the company was already under, it simply isn't out of the question either.