Lawmakers Criticize Potential Facebook Settlement With FTC

May 6, 2019 Updated: May 6, 2019

WASHINGTON—Two senators on May 6 criticized reported plans for a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settlement with Facebook Inc. for misuse of consumers’ personal data, saying that top officials, potentially including founder Mark Zuckerberg, must be held personally responsible.

In a letter to the FTC, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told the agency that even a $5 billion civil penalty is a “bargain for Facebook.”

The agency is also reportedly contemplating a settlement that elevates oversight of privacy policies and practices to Facebook’s board of directors and requires the social media giant to be more aggressive in policing third-party app developers.

But that was inadequate, said Blumenthal and Hawley.

“The FTC should impose long-term limits on Facebook’s collection and use of personal information. It should consider setting rules of the road on what Facebook can do with consumers’ private information, such as requiring the deletion of tracking data, restricting the collection of certain types of information, curbing advertising practices, and imposing a firewall on sharing private data between different products,” they said in a letter to FTC Chairman Joe Simons.

The FTC has been investigating revelations that Facebook inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The probe has focused on whether the sharing of data and other disputes violated a 2011 agreement with the FTC to safeguard user privacy.

The two senators also urged the agency to name any Facebook official who was behind any violation of a consent decree. “Personal responsibility must be recognized from the top of the corporate board down to the product development teams,” they wrote.

The FTC acknowledged receipt of the letter but declined to comment. Facebook declined to comment.

Among Facebook’s other privacy issues was a glitch that exposed passwords of millions of users stored in readable format within its internal systems to its employees.

In September 2018, the company revealed that unknown individuals exploited a vulnerability on the platform that affected 50 million users.

In February, The Wall Street Journal reported that several phone apps were sending sensitive user data, including health information, to Facebook without users’ consent. The company said it worked to remove information that developers should not have sent to Facebook.

Bipartisan Dissatisfaction

Facebook has been getting heat for years from left and right of the political spectrum for misusing user data, intruding on user privacy, allowing foreign governments to use the platform to interfere in U.S. elections, and suppressing right-wing content.

Facebook has cracked down on the foreign meddling and adjusted its data privacy practices. In April, Zuckerberg also called for new government regulations of the internet, which raised concerns of its own.

Facebook has denied political bias in content policing, though there’s evidence its approach is inherently skewed against conservatives.

President Donald Trump came to the defense of popular conservative commentators who have been recently banned or suspended by Facebook and Twitter. “Social Media & Fake News Media, together with their partner, the Democrat Party, have no idea the problems they are causing for themselves,” Trump said in a May 4 tweet.

Epoch Times staff member Petr Svab and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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