Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Facebook has seen a tidal wave of trouble rising. Advertisers, including Mozilla, have begun pulling ads from the social network. Several lawsuits have been filed. Rumors of possible repercussions from Congress and the Federal Trade Commission have been floating around. Now it appears that the FTC has confirmed that it has opened an investigation into whether Facebook has violated any privacy regulations or laws.
Last week we reported that former federal officials were speculating that Facebook may have violated the FTC’s consent decree. The decree is one that requires the social network to obtain explicit consent from users before sharing their data with third parties. You have likely seen this anytime you have played a game on Facebook or clicked on a link to an online survey or quiz linked with the network.
In the case of Cambridge Analytica, only a handful of people consented to have their data gathered. However, the friends of those who opted in were also exposed to data scraping without having given their consent. Facebook could be facing a $40,000 fine for each of the 50 million privacy violations equating to almost $2 trillion in penalties. Even if the FTC decided to go easy on the social media powerhouse, it could still be looking at billions of dollars in fines.
Although this was all just speculation last week, the threat became a bit more real this week. On Monday, the FTC Acting Director Tom Pahl issued a statement saying that the commission would be investigating Facebook’s privacy practices.
“The FTC is firmly and fully committed to using all of its tools to protect the privacy of consumers. Foremost among these tools is enforcement action against companies that fail to honor their privacy promises, including to comply with Privacy Shield, or that engage in unfair acts that cause substantial injury to consumers in violation of the FTC Act. Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook. Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices.”
Facebook has not commented on the FTC investigation, but last week CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined how the company would be shoring up security going forward in an open letter. The letter fell short of apologizing for the fiasco but said, “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't then we don't deserve to serve you.”
Indeed, as Facebook privacy issues continue to unfold, the #deletefacebook movement, started by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, is beginning to look more and more appealing.