Lawmakers Blast 'Woefully Inadequate' $5 Billion Facebook Settlement

Facebook's reported $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission is “woefully inadequate,” three lawmakers say in a letter sent to the agency Tuesday.

“It is clear that a $5 billion fine alone is a far cry from the type of monetary figure that would alter the incentives and behavior of Facebook and its peers,” Sens. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) write. “We are concerned that the FTC has failed to impose strict structural reforms and managerial accountability that would put an end to Facebook's privacy invasions.”

The letter comes in response to news reports that Facebook will pay a record-breaking $5 billion fine to settle allegations it violated a 2012 consent decree with the FTC.

The FTC reportedly voted 3-2 to approve the deal. Non-financial terms -- including any new privacy practices -- have not yet been disclosed. But the lawmakers suggest the split vote indicates the proposed terms won't be stringent enough to protect people's privacy in the future.

“We believe that the reported settlement is woefully inadequate,” the lawmakers write. “We are highly disappointed to learn that the Commission has apparently failed to reach a strong, bipartisan agreement, sending the wrong message to tech companies,” they add.

The FTC began investigating Facebook last year, shortly after it emerged that the consultancy Cambridge Analytica harvested data from up to 87 million Facebook users.

Those data transfers may have violated a 2012 consent decree that prohibits Facebook from misrepresenting its privacy practices, and from misrepresenting the extent to which it makes users' information available to third parties.

The FTC is not generally empowered to fine companies over privacy violations, but can impose financial penalties on companies that fail to comply with consent decrees.

Markey and the other lawmakers are posing a host of questions to the FTC, including whether the agency is naming CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the new settlement, whether the agency plans to restrict how Facebook collects and shares data, and whether the agency will restrict Facebook's integration of messaging services.

The senators are requesting answers by August 6.

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