The Washington Post has reported that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Facebook are in talks right now over a fine to penalize the social networking company for its numerous privacy lapses. It would likely be a multi billion-dollar fine and the amount would be much steeper than the $22.5 million penalty levied on Google for continuing to track Apple’ s web browser Safari’s user after agreeing to not do so.
The specifics of the penalty, especially the fine amount, haven’t reportedly been decided yet. Facebook has been under constant scrutiny following last year’s Cambridge Analytical scandal, whereby it emerged that the political consultancy firm was able to improperly harvest the data of 87 million users on the platform.
Numerous other data breaches emerged after the Cambridge Analytical debacle, raising concerns about the social media giant’s commitment to safeguarding user information. The FTC is inquiring whether the privacy mishaps violate the 2011 deal that Facebook made with the agency that mandated the company to explicitly seek consent from users before passing on their data to third parties. The ongoing negotiations could mark the end of the now almost two-year-long probe. However, it’s worth noting that Facebook has denied accusations that it breached the agreement.
In fact, sources close to the matter have revealed that the social media company is reluctant to give in to FTC’s demands and disagreements could prevent the talks from going through. If the two have a falling out, the matter could be taken to court. However, that would escalate the issue further and such a scenario could be damaging for both sides and would likely be avoided. Otherwise, it would ensue in a lengthy legal battle, sending top Facebook executives to the court again and deal a blow to FTC’s authority.
A record-breaking fine is apparently intended to serve as a reminder to Facebook and other tech companies in the U.S. to prevent privacy misconducts in the future. Consumer groups have been calling on the FTC to not settle for an amount less than $2 billion as anything in millions would not serve the purpose. To put things into perspective, the social media giant had reported fourth-quarter profit of $6.9 billion and a fine in millions would be peanuts for it.
Groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Color of Change, and Open Market Institute are also pressing the FTC to break up Facebook to prevent it from abusing its monopoly position and restore innovation and competition in the tech industry. It remains to be seen if the two other Facebook-owned applications, Instagram and WhatsApp, will also be affected as a result of the ongoing negotiations. However, it is a given that Facebook would resist any attempts to divest any of its businesses.
Facebook could enter an accord with the U.S government by paying a fine and reforming its business practice. Moreover, the FTC could also subject the social media platform to firmer checkups to ensure it's complying with the agreement. The FTC has not commented on the alleged settlement talks yet while Facebook has acknowledged that it’s working with the agency.