Facebook is reportedly considering paying a record multi-billion dollar fine to settle a US investigation into its privacy practices

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Win McNamee/ Getty Images.
  • Facebook could pay a multi-billion dollar fine as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.
  • The FTC has been investigating whether the leak of data on Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica violated a previous agreement between the agency and the social-networking company.
  • The two sides haven’t agreed to terms.
  • If they can’t reach a deal, the matter could go to court, where Facebook could face a much larger penalty.

The Federal Trade Commission’s investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices could end with the social-networking giant paying a record fine.

The agency and the tech company are discussing having the latter pay a multi-billion dollar fine to settle the inquiry, which was prompted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Washington Post reported. The two sides haven’t agreed on an amount, and Facebook’s negotiators have raised concerns about the agency’s proposed terms, according to the Post, which cited people familiar with the investigation.

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The FTC is reportedly considering hitting Facebook with a ‘record-setting’ fine over privacy issues

Facebook spokeswoman Sally Aldous declined to comment on the negotiations or the potential fine, instead reiterating the company’s past statement that it is cooperating with the agency. Federal Trade Commission spokeswoman Juliana Gruenwald likewise declined to comment on the report.

Whistleblowers last year revealed that personal details on up to 87 million Facebook users was inappropriately accessed by Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm linked to President Trump. Since then, Facebook has acknowledged other security breaches that have compromised the personal data of millions more of its users.

The FTC has been investigating whether any of those incidents constitute violations of a settlement the agency reached with Facebook in 2011 over separate charges of privacy violations. As part of that agreement, Facebook agreed to get users’ consent before sharing their data with third parties, such as Cambridge Analytica. It also agreed to takes steps to better protect users’ data.

Facebook and the FTC could go to court instead

If the agency and Facebook are unable to reach an accord, the FTC could sue Facebook and take it to court, where the outcomes could range from a vindication of the social-networking company, to a much larger fine than even the one the two sides are negotiating.

For each violation of the consent decree, Facebook faces a potential fine of up to $US41,484. Given the number the number of customer records affected in just the Cambridge Analytica leak, Facebook could theoretically be liable for a fine into the trillions of dollars.

Even a multi-billion dollar assessment would be a stiff one from the FTC. The largest-ever penalty it has imposed was the $US22 million Google agreed to pay in 2012 to settle the FTC’s investigation into the search giant’s privacy practices.

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