When it comes to privacy, Facebook is … not so great. That’s in ways both intentional — like aggressively harvesting your data and tracking you around the web — and unintentional — like failing to police third-party developers accessing Facebook data and cybersecurity lapses. They’ve got a lot of irons in a lot of fires and pobody’s nerfect. But now they might actually face consequences for their privacy practices.
The Washington Post reported this afternoon that Facebook is in negotiations with the Federal Trade Commission, hoping to hash out the terms of “a multi-billion dollar fine that would settle the agency’s investigation into the social media giant’s privacy practices.” The probe began last year following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, investigating whether Facebook’s lax privacy practices violated a consent decree the company entered into in 2011. That agreement required Facebook to be transparent about how it uses data and regularly audit that use.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal had to do with how third-party developers used the data that Facebook gave them access to — friends lists, profile information, contact info, and so on. A researcher used an application built on Facebook’s platform to collect data not only about the app’s users, but also about their friends, and then sold that data to Cambridge Analytica without the users’ knowledge or consent (a violation of Facebook’s developer terms). Facebook discovered the widespread misappropriation of data in 2015, and did not notify users until The Guardian and the New York Times reported on it last year. That scandal basically opened a firehose of reporting on Facebook’s dubious practices when it comes to handling data.
Should Facebook negotiate a ten-plus-figure settlement with the FTC, it would far and away eclipse any other fine ever levied against a tech company by the regulatory body. The largest one in history, according to the Post, was a $22.5 million penalty levied against Google in 2012. Alternatively, if the two sides don’t strike a deal, Facebook and the FTC could be headed to court.