Facebook’s latest disclosure that its search tools collect data on most of its 2.2 billion users could open up the social media company to record fines from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and increase the legal risk from the scandal.
The Washington Post, citing three former federal officials who worked at the FTC when Facebook signed a consent decree back in 2011, said the latest revelation may have violated the decree’s provisions that called for the social media giant to put a privacy program in place.
According to the report, the 20-year decree requires Facebook to find and address any threats to users’ data privacy as its business practices change. That means Facebook was obligated to limit the sharing of users’ data and prevent outsiders from accessing it improperly, which Cambridge Analytica is accused of doing, said David Vladeck, who was head of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection at the time that Facebook drafted and signed the decree.
“Is it possible that this episode is also a violation of the consent decree? I would say yes,” said Vladeck, now a Georgetown University law professor. The professor reportedly predicted that Facebook could get hit with fines of $1 billion or greater for this, in addition to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
“The agency will want to send a signal … that the agency takes its consent decrees seriously,” Vladeck told The WSJ.
Officials at Facebook declined to comment on whether or not the disclosure that its search tools collect data violated the decree, but denied that the Cambridge Analytica issue was a violation.
“We’ve worked hard to make sure that we comply” with the consent decree, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a call with reporters last week. “I think the reality here is that we need to take a broader view of our responsibility, rather than just the legal responsibility.”
In March, the FTC announced it was investigating the incident, but declined to comment on the scraping of users’ data without their consent.