Facebook might face a multi-billion dollar fine from the FTC

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According to The Washington Post, Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission are negotiating a multibillion-dollar fine. The FTC is planning to fine the social network over its privacy violations. This would be the largest fine the FTC has ever levied against a tech company, though the final figures are still being negotiated.

While Facebook confirmed it is involved in discussion with the FTC, they declined to comment further, as did the FTC. The information in the story comes from two people familiar with the probe who spoke to the Post anonymously.

The largest fine imposed by FTC up to this point was the one it handed to Google back in 2012. Google was fined $22.5 million by the Commission for tracking users of Apple’s Safari web browser and placing tracking “cookies” to serve targeted ads to users. In the complaint, the FTC noted that “Google placed a certain advertising tracking cookie on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google’s DoubleClick advertising network, although Google had previously told these users they would automatically be opted out of such tracking, as a result of the default settings of the Safari browser used in Macs, iPhones and iPads.”

In 2012, FTC also made an agreement with Facebook over user privacy. Facebook had agreed that it would no longer lie to users by telling them that certain information on their profiles would remain private when they intended to use the data for targeted advertising. But in the last year alone, Facebook proved over and over again that it violated that agreement.

The fine will likely be tied specifically to the Cambridge Analytica scandal that rocked the tech world back in April 2018. The social network sold users’ data to third party companies so they could analyze data for political campaigns. Around 87 million users’ data was sold to the political campaign agency.

According to The Washington Post, the FTC could be looking to fine Facebook in the billions in order to prove that the organization has the authority to keep big tech companies in check. Advocacy groups have long criticized the FTC for fines that amounted to a slap on the wrist for multi-billion dollar companies. Organizations like the Open Market Institute and Color of Change wrote a letter to the FTC demanding Facebook be fined at least $2 billion and divest ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp for failing to safeguard users’ privacy on these Facebook-owned properties.

The letter read, in part:

“Given that Facebook’s violations are so numerous in scale, severe in nature, impactful for such a large portion of the American public and central to the company’s business model, and given the company’s massive size and influence over American consumers. Penalties and remedies that go far beyond the Commission’s recent actions are called for.”

While Facebook seems poised to accept a large fine, it is unclear if its ownership of Instagram and Whatsapp will be affected. We can expect lengthy court battles between the two parties if the matter isn’t negotiated behind closed doors.

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