Facebook could reportedly face more than monetary consequences as a result of privacy breaches beginning from the 2016 Cambridge Analytica scandal if a bipartisan effort from US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Senator Josh Hawley of is successful. Members of a Federal Trade Commission oversight subcommittee, the lawmakers have proposed that fines simply aren't enough in the case of Facebook.
The senators hope to impose long-term limitations and 'accountability measures' on the company, starting at the top-most executive levels. The legislators have asserted that those in managerial positions at the company need to be held responsible for violations alongside other 'structural remedies' meant to bring an end to breaches of consumer trust.
In addition to those less specific changes, the two senators have floated suggestions that Facebook should be required to completely delete any tracking data they currently hold. The company would need to follow limitations about how much data and what types of data can be collected. On the advertising side of things, the company would need to separate its respective businesses and products, bringing an end to cross-platform sharing within the company.
On top of a hefty fine
Whether or not any of the measures are implemented is still very much up in the air after reported statements from FTC Chairman Joseph Simons as recently as last week.
The chairman indicated that such measures are a last resort due to the costs of litigation stemming from resistance to imposed limitations. Mr. Simons also claimed that those who the lawmakers hope to hold responsible for breaches aren't necessarily aware of the underlying issues leading to breaches of consumer trust.
Facebook already expects between $3 billion and $5 billion in fines from the FTC for its numerous breaches, impacting at least 87 million users' private data and that the company appears more than ready to pay those. The upper limit to that amount would equate to less than nine percent of its total intake — around $56 billion — for 2018 alone, with the company currently valued at $97 billion in total assets by recent accounts.
That's a figure that Senators Blumenthal and Hawley have referred to as a "bargain."
Compounding that sentiment, Facebook has continued to grow at the global level, according to its own quarterly reports. As of Q4 2018, the company touted 1.52 billion Daily Active Users on average for December. That's a nine percent increase year-over-year. The numbers are even more promising for the company on the monthly level, with Monthly Active Users falling in at 2.32 billion as of December 31 — also a nine percent increase.
That's despite some reports of drops to Facebook's user base in specific regions such as the US.
Will this have any impact at all?
The Cambridge Analytica scandal was only the beginning of public trouble for the company regarding its privacy practices and despite a number of claims that it would do better, the company has effectively failed on all counts. Not only have further breaches from the past come to light. The social media giant has been embroiled in a number of new controversies, breaches, and scandals.
More recently, the company has repeatedly stated that it will be and is rebuilding its services around privacy but the claims aren't necessarily easily differentiated from those of the past either. Privacy advocates, including the bipartisan partnership pushing to see more than basic fines instated, have called for more action to be taken by governing bodies in the wake of the controversies.
That doesn't seem likely at this point and the FTC hasn't made any new statements on the matter. It remains to be seen if fines that Facebook is already more than willing to pay will have any lasting impact on its practices, particularly will few if any competing alternative apps or services for users to turn to.