Federal investigators could go after Mark Zuckerberg personally in a legal escalation after massive privacy scandals

  • Mark Zuckerberg could be held directly responsible by the Federal Trade Commission for any Facebook privacy failings in an investigation of the social network, The Washington Post reports.
  • The FTC’s investigation is the result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which Facebook user data of millions of people was improperly handled by third-party services.
  • If Zuckerberg is targeted in the investigation, it would represent a significant increase in federal scrutiny for the person in charge of one of the tech industry’s biggest companies.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

A federal investigation into Facebook could find Mark Zuckerberg directly responsible for any privacy failings on the social network, according to a new report in The Washington Post.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating Facebook over the mishandling of user data on the platform, stemming from the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which data of tens of millions of Facebook users was improperly shared with outside parties.

Two sources speaking with The Post said the FTC was considering whether to “seek new, heightened oversight” of Zuckerberg’s leadership. The Post previously reported that the FTC might be seeking a multibillion-dollar fine for the social network as well. Facebook said in a statement to The Post and to Business Insider that it hoped to “reach an appropriate and fair resolution.” The FTC declined to comment.

At least one lawmaker agrees with the idea. “The FTC should hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable by name in any consent order,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon told the Post reporter Tony Romm.

While Facebook has found itself under scrutiny from federal investigators before, Zuckerberg hasn’t been specifically targeted or sanctioned.

The investigation is looking into whether Facebook violated the terms of a 2011 settlement with the FTC, specifically something called the “consent decree,” which essentially made Facebook responsible for being transparent with users about how their data was being used on the platform – with future violations punishable by huge fines. Facebook has said in the past that it has not violated the consent decree.

But now Zuckerberg’s past comments on Facebook privacy are being examined, The Post reports, and the FTC could try to send a message to corporate leaders that they could be held liable for their company’s mishaps.

If the FTC decides to hold Zuckerberg personally responsible for any Facebook failings when it comes to user privacy, it would represent a marked increase in the scrutiny of his leadership.

Mark ZuckerbergChip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesZuckerberg arriving to testify before two Senate committees.

It’s been a bad week for Facebook

The report comes in the wake of recent revelations discovered by Business Insider that Facebook collected the email contact lists of 1.5 million new users without their knowledge or permission.

A now-discontinued email-verification system that Facebook used with new users caused the tech giant to inadvertently collect email contact information from 1.5 million new users.

Those contacts were used to “improve Facebook’s ad targeting, build Facebook’s web of social connections, and recommend friends to add,” Business Insider’s Rob Price wrote on Wednesday.

Facebook email contactsBIDespite the message saying ‘We couldn’t find any contacts,’ Facebook was still importing email contacts and using them for ad targeting.

Experts speaking with Business Insider said Facebook could be violating a variety of regulations, including the FTC consent decree; the European Union privacy law known as GDPR; and perhaps even the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a US criminal statute involving computer fraud and abuse.

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