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FTC purportedly split on how to punish Facebook’s privacy lapses


By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

May 5, 2019 | 4 min read

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reported to be split over how best to discipline Facebook for a series of high-profile privacy lapses; underscoring the increasing complexities in policing digital platforms.


Earlier this year, Zuckerberg called for governments to pay a bigger role in global enforcement of privacy

In April, Facebook used its monthly earnings call to detail how it planned to set aside $3bn to $5bn, anticipating that the result of a probe conducted by US authorities into its data protection practices would result in a heavy fine.

Now, however, The New York Times reports that FTC members are “split on the size and scope of the tech company’s punishment” as they enter the final days of talks.

The Times claims that members can’t agree on the financial penalty, nor whether founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg should be held personally responsible for the data misgivings the FTC is investigating.

The watchdog started its probe into Facebook 13 months ago after revelations the company allowed user data to be turned into political profiles by Donald Trump-linked Cambridge Analytica, a scandal that impacted 87 million users globally.

Facebook has already made clear that it doesn’t believe Zuckerberg should be held responsible for the actions of its near 36,000 employees.

A fine as high as $5bn would be a slap on the wrist for Facebook, but would have little impact on its annual bottom line, with the social media giant having posted $15bn in revenues for the last quarter alone.

It’s also been alleged by Politco that The FTC was negotiating a settlement with the social network that would require it to strengthen its privacy procedure through the creation of privacy-focused positions within the business.

Neither Facebook nor The FTC have commented on any claims about the discussions.

The reported division shows the difficulties government-owned regulators face in policing tech giants in an ever digital world.

In the UK, the government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee recently recommended that social media firms should be overseen by their own independent regulator.

The House of Lords, meanwhile, believes a single super regulator (or Digital Authority) should take responsibility for oversight of the myriad watchdogs already operating in the space.

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg called for governments to play a bigger role in global enforcement of privacy, election integrity and data protection rights, including sanctions against anyone, found to be in breach of those fundamental principles.

In light of the suggestion, the UK Information Commissioner (ICO) then urged Facebook to drop its appeal against a £500k fine, levied in punishment for breaching data protection laws in the Cambridge Analytica case.

The FTC is expected to vote on the US matter in the coming weeks.

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