US regulators recently met and discussed to impose a record-setting fine against Facebook since it violated a legally binding agreement along with the government wherein they were supposed to protect the privacy of their users’ personal data. This was reported by three people who were familiar with the deliberations but they didn’t have the authority to speak on the record.
The fine under consideration at the Federal Trade Commission is a privacy and security watchdog which started probing Facebook last year, and this will mark the first major punishment which has been taken against Facebook in the United States after the reports regarding Cambridge Analytica were leaked. CA is a political consultancy which accessed personal information of about 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.
The penalty will be much larger than the $22.5 million (approximately Rs. 160 crores) fine which the agency has previously imposed on Google in the year 2012. This fine had set a record for the highest penalty since it violated an agreement which was with the FTC in order to improve its privacy practices.
The FTC’s findings in their Facebook investigation and the total amount of the fine have been discussed by the agency’s five commissioners during a private meeting but nothing has been finalized as of now. Staff briefed the commissioners regarding their probe, and have plans to announce a formal recommendation regarding the fine soon, and this move will consequently trigger a vote from the commissioners.
Facebook has also spoken to the FTC staffers regarding the investigation, but it is not clear whether or not the company will settle with the FTC after accepting a significant financial penalty. The FTC has been shut down in between the lapse in the government funding. FTC Chairman Joseph Simons didn’t comment on this issue and Facebook declined to comment.
On Friday, privacy advocates urged strongly to the FTC to take aggressive action against Facebook.
Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who helped bringing out the FTC’s 2011 charges against Facebook said- “The agency now has the legal authority, the evidence, as well as the public support to act. There can be no excuse for any further delay.”
The agreement needs Facebook to notify their users, and give them permission, before sharing their data with third parties which are different from their existing privacy settings. The legally binding order has also mandated Facebook to get users’ affirmative permission before their data will be shared with the third parties, and it also requires the tech giant to inform the FTC in case other parties misuse their information. It has further prohibited Facebook from making deceptive statements regarding their privacy practices the way it uses data.
Privacy advocates charged Facebook stating it violated the terms of the agreement repeatedly, and evidence has been provided by their entanglement with Cambridge Analytica. The data firm had tied to the Trump campaign, and it improperly harnessed personal information of users with the social networking site’s help with the goal of better target voters with political messages. Cambridge Analytica relied on researchers who would assemble a quiz app and it collected names, locations, interests and other data from the users as well as their friends, who installed the app.
The incident was brought to light by a former Cambridge Analytica employee and since then, it sparked an international backlash. Regulators all around the globe threatened to charge Facebook because of this and rein in the data-collection practices of their Silicon Valley peers. Lawmakers in the US Congress summoned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who would testify for the first time on Capitol Hill, and that time, he apologised to lawmakers for their privacy violations.
After the Cambridge Analytica probe saw the light of the day, other privacy troubles against Facebook emerged, and this included details regarding their data-sharing agreements with smartphone and TV device-makers, banks and other major businesses and a full roster of third-party apps s well. Much more of federal fines might follow since the FTC has investigated the matters.
The penalty will mark to be the toughest punishment till date to be levied on Facebook since it mishandled the users’ data. Regulators in the United Kingdom have assessed an approximation of $640,000 (about Rs. 4.56 crores) fine which Facebook has appealed. The attorney general of the District of Columbia mounted a lawsuit against the tech giant for their missteps.
The FTC issued large fines in the recent years against companies which had deceived their consumers. It charged Volkswagen in 2016 since it had spent more than $14 billion (approximately Rs. 99,800 crores) for settling the charges which were related to mishandling of emissions tests. It also forced LifeLock which is an identity-protection company, to pay $100 million (approximately Rs. 712 crores) since it failed to secure its data, and some of it was returned to consumers.
In a 2012 investigation against Google, the agency staff concluded that Google had abused their monopoly power and had issued a formal recommendation to the commissioners and it further challenged Google’s practices as well. The commissioners unanimously voted and ended the investigation since Google agreed to voluntarily change some of their practices and this move led to widespread frustration among the agency staff.