The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has approved a $5 billion (€4.43 billion) fine to settle an investigation into Facebook’s handling of user data and privacy lapses, sources cited by Reuters news agency and The Wall Street Journal said Friday.
It would be the largest fine ever imposed by the consumer protection agency but was called inadequate by critics.
Media reports said the settlement was backed in a 3-2 vote, with Republicans in favor of the deal and Democrats against it. News of the settlement pushed Facebook’s share price up 1.8% on Friday.
Facebook and the FTC declined to comment on the deal.
Allegations of data misuse
The FTC investigation was sparked by revelations last year that Cambridge Analytica — a political consultancy hired by US President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign as well as Leave.EU, a pro-Brexit group in the UK — had improperly obtained the private information of 87 million Facebook users.
Facebook has also admitted to giving tech companies like Amazon and Yahoo access to users’ personal data, and it’s been heavily criticized for failing to stop the spread of hate speech and false information on its platform.
Given that Facebook made nearly $56 billion in revenue last year, the FTC fine is unlikely to have a significant impact on the company’s bottom line. Earlier this year, Facebook said it had set aside $3 billion for legal settlements on “user data practices,” and that it expected to potentially have to pay up to $5 billion.
‘Slap on the wrist’
According to The Wall Street Journal, the settlement is also expected to include restrictions for how Facebook manages user privacy in the future.
Some critics have called for the FTC to hold Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally liable for privacy violations, or for the company’s data monitoring practices to be more closely scrutinized.
Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat and chair of a Congressional antitrust panel, called the penalty “a Christmas present five months early.”
“It’s very disappointing that such an enormously powerful company that engaged in such serious misconduct is getting a slap on the wrist. This fine is a fraction of Facebook’s annual revenue. It won’t make them think twice about their responsibility to protect user data,” he said in a statement.
The settlement still needs to be approved by the Justice Department before it is finalized. It is not yet clear how long that process will take.
nm/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)
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