U.S. regulators have met to discuss imposing a record-setting fine against Facebook for violating a legally binding agreement with the government to protect the privacy of its users' personal data, according to three people familiar with the deliberations but not authorized to speak on the record.
The fine under consideration at the Federal Trade Commission, a privacy and security watchdog that began probing Facebook last year, would mark the first major punishment levied against Facebook in the United States since reports emerged in March that Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, accessed personal information on about 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge, according to The Washington Post.
The penalty is expected to be much larger than the $22.5 million fine the agency imposed on Google in 2012. That fine set a record for the greatest penalty for violating an agreement with the FTC to improve its privacy practices.
On Friday, privacy advocates strongly urged the FTC to take aggressive action against Facebook. “The agency now has the legal authority, the evidence, and the public support to act. There can be no excuse for further delay,” said Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which helped to bring about the FTC’s 2011 charges against Facebook.
The key question for the FTC is whether Facebook’s business practices — and the protections and privacy controls it afforded consumers — violated requirements spelled out in a consent decree brokered by the agency the last time it accused the tech giant of deceiving its users. Only through such a finding could the FTC levy a fine.