The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has slapped Facebook with a record $5 billion fine for privacy violations – but this appears to not be such bad news for the social media giant after all.
The settlement and the price tag attached to it is something the tech behemoth can easily absorb – and the stock market clearly said as much when Facebook's shares gained in value when the figure was first mentioned.
The latest FTC investigation against Facebook came on suspicion that the company had violated a previous order of the Commission, issued in 2012. Announcing the settlement and the penalty, the FTC said Facebook had violated the original order “by deceiving users about their ability to control the privacy of their personal information.”
However, as Ashkan Soltani noted on Twitter, the FTC decision “indemnifies Facebook for any and all claims prior to June 12, 2019.”
6) *HOLY CRAP*: the FTC settlement indemnifies @Facebook for "any and all claims prior to June 12, 2019"
No wonder FB is willing to pay $5B
(Also not a surprise that it was a 3-2 vote)
Only a subset of the potential FTC violations reported since 2018 are covered (see the list) pic.twitter.com/zfvlq77Oav
— ashkan soltani (@ashk4n) July 24, 2019
This puts the $5 billion figure in a whole new context, suggesting that Facebook got off lightly.
Soltani, a former FTC chief technical officer, and senior adviser in the Obama White House, also tweeted about the long list of potential violations that Facebook will now not be held responsible for – covering only the period since 2018.
Among them are apparent violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
The FTC announcement of the settlement puts a strong emphasis of this being the largest penalty ever handed down over privacy violations and one of the largest the US government has ever imposed.
The Commission also said that Facebook will now have to change its ways by means of introducing “new restrictions and a modified corporate structure.” According to the FTC, this should result in the giant's greater accountability and enact a change in Facebook's “entire privacy culture” – but critics of the settlement are not convinced.
There will be a privacy oversight committee formed by Facebook's board, that will report about the level of compliance to the FTC. But, as Bloomberg noted all this will not amount to much when it comes to introducing any changes to Facebook's core business – that of advertising.
And how consumer privacy can be respected with Facebook's advertising business model continuing as before – that's anyone's guess.
Rohit Chopra, an FTC commissioner who opposed the settlement, explained why he thought it couldn't: the FTC decision, he said, “imposes no meaningful changes to the company's structure or financial incentives, which led to these violations (…) instead, the order allows Facebook to decide for itself how much information it can harvest from users and what it can do with that information, as long as it creates a paper trail.”