March 19, 2018

ANTISOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook may have broken FTC deal in Cambridge Analytica incident.

Facebook may face more legal trouble than you might think in the wake of Cambridge Analytica’s large-scale data harvesting. Former US officials David Vladeck and Jessica Rich have told the Washington Post that Facebook’s data sharing may violate the FTC consent decree requiring that it both ask for permission before sharing data and report any authorized access. The “Thisisyourdigitallife” app at the heart of the affair asked for permission from those who directly used it, but not the millions of Facebook friends whose data was taken in the process.

Facebook, for its part, said that it “reject[s] any suggestion” that it violated the consent decree. It maintained that it “respected” users’ privacy settings.

If the FTC did find violations, Facebook could be on the hook for some very hefty fines — albeit fines that aren’t likely to be as hefty as possible. The decree asks for fines as large as $40,000 per person, but that would amount to roughly $2 trillion. Regulators like the FTC historically push for fines they know companies can pay, which would suggest fines that are ‘just’ in the billion-dollar range. Given that there are already multiple American and European investigations underway, any financial penalty would be just one piece of a larger puzzle.

$40,000 per user might not be realistic, since it would force Facebook into liquidation and users would still never see that much restitution.

But just think of the message it would send to the surviving data-harvesting platforms.

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