By Meeta Ramnani - July 25, 2019 4 Mins Read
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finally announced the record-smashing $5 billion settlement with Facebook Inc. over allegations related to privacy. This is the highest fine in the history of tech companies.
These biggest charges in the settlement are fined to Facebook that allowed Cambridge Analytica, a third-party app to access user data of 87 million people.
Other than the fine amount, that goes to the US Treasury, the settlement also demands higher privacy oversight at the company. The commission voted 3-2 along party lines in support of the settlement. The two Democrats Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Rohit Chopra were the ones that voted against adopting the settlement. Their statements show that the fine was not even near enough, and leaves ample room for Facebook to get up to mischief in the future.
The new order requires Facebook to make structural changes to the user privacy on its products, which also include Instagram and WhatsApp.
The board of directors is also ordered to form an independent privacy committee to designate compliance officers responsible for handling privacy compliance. Members of the privacy committee are to be nominated by an independent nominating committee. Only this new committee will be able to remove the compliance officers, not Zuckerberg.
For the next 20 years, in addition to FTC, a third-party entity will also regularly monitor and review Facebook’s data collection practices. Guaranteeing the company’s compliance, the new compliance officers and Mark Zuckerberg must submit annual and quarterly privacy certifications to FTC. If the certifications are found to be false, Facebook will be see penalties from both civil and criminal cases.
Though the terms sound hard, experts have also observed that the deal does not make anyone personally responsible for the breach, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The settlement also does not mandate huge changes to the way in which Facebook collects data, it only affects the way the tech giant makes disclosures and honors user settings.
Facebook too released a statement mentioning that this settlement would bring ‘rigorous new standards for protecting your privacy.’ Zuckerberg in his statement said, ‘As part of this settlement, we’re bringing our privacy controls more in line with our financial controls under the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. Our executives, including me, will have to certify that all of the work we oversee meets our privacy commitments…We’ve also asked one of our most experienced product leaders to take on the role of Chief Privacy Officer for Products.’
The CEO promised that they would review their technical systems to document any privacy risks and how they handle them. He claims that the changes that Facebook plan to make regarding user data privacy ‘go beyond anything required under US law today.’
The $5 billion penalty that has been currently levied is equivalent to around 9% of Facebook’s annual revenue, making it one of the largest civil penalties in US history for any type of conduct.
In addition to the blockbuster deal, FTC also announced two separate settlements related to Facebook’s privacy practices today. A $100 million settlement was made between FTC and Cambridge Analytica, along with the former CEO Alexander Nix and developer Aleksandr Kogan for deceiving customers that they did not collect any personally identifiable (PI) data. The US Securities and Exchange Commission accused Facebook of deception to its investors, where the company is paying $100 million to settle these charges.
Rebecca Kelly Slaughter in her dissent said that the settlement falls short against the allegations. The terms do not go far enough to ensure accountability of Facebook. It also does not mention limitations on Facebook’s data collection, use and sharing. She believes that the fine is not even close enough to the injury that has been caused to the public and the institutions of the American democracy. Rohit Chopra also voiced similar sentiments mentioning that there is nothing in the order that gives the social media giant any incentive to leave its behavioral advertising model behind, which is not expected to make any changes to conditions that actually led to these violations.
Experts believe that the thirst for data has Facebook harvest intimate, personal details on a scale that is almost unimaginable. Facebook’s data collection is increasing. To facilitate further, Facebook grants itself the right to survey, own, and monetize users’ private information by binding them to constantly evolving take-it-or-leave-it terms at sign-on.
Though this is said to be the biggest fine ever, there are no optimistic views ahead to secure user privacy in the near future.
Meeta Ramnani is the Senior Editor with OnDot Media. She writes about technologies including AI, IoT, Cloud, Big Data, Blockchain across various industries with a focus on Digital Transformation. An avid bike rider, Meeta, is a postgraduate from Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media (IIJNM) Bangalore, where her specialization was Business Journalism. She carries four years of experience in mainstream print media where she worked as a correspondent with The Times Group and Sakal Media Group in Pune.
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