Facebook And FTC Urge Judge To Approve $5 Billion Privacy Settlement

Facebook claims it will provide users with privacy protections “far beyond those required by United States law" as part of a $5 billion proposed settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

The company makes the statement in papers filed Friday that urge U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly in Washington, D.C. to approve the controversial deal.

“Facebook agreed to the sweeping terms in the Stipulated Order because it is committed to rebuilding the trust of its users and protecting consumers’ privacy,” lawyers for the social networking platform wrote.

The FTC also urged Kelly to sign off on the settlement, arguing it will bring “definite and substantial relief to consumers as soon as possible.”

In addition to the $5 billion fine, the deal requires Facebook to accept new oversight on privacy. 

If accepted by Kelly, the deal would also immunize Facebook from prosecution for some other potential privacy violations that occurred before June 12 of last year.

The settlement, approved by a 3-2 vote at the FTC, has drawn criticism from numerous observers, including Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), who called it an "insult to consumers."

The new filings by Facebook and the FTC come in response to a challenge to the proposed settlement by five advocacy groups -- including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Public Citizen, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Common Sense Media and U.S. Public Interest Research Group -- that argued the deal is too favorable to Facebook.

Among other concerns, the advocates say the deal's immunity provisions are too broad.

“The settlement releases Facebook from liability for past violations that are not addressed or even identified in the complaint, and the settlement does not impose meaningful changes to Facebook’s business practices,” EPIC wrote in papers filed with Kelly last October. “No one can fairly evaluate the propriety of a settlement whose terms are indeterminate; not the FTC, not the court, and certainly not the public.”

The FTC says in its most recent court filing that the settlement only releases Facebook from liability for alleged violations noted in the agency's complaint.

“The proposed settlement does not in fact release any actual violations of the FTC Act beyond those discussed in the complaint,” the agency writes. “This is because, after extensive investigation and review of submitted consumer complaints, the FTC knew of no other cognizable violations that occurred before June 12, 2019.”

If granted approval, the deal will resolve an investigation into whether Facebook violated the terms of a 2012 consent decree. That earlier order, which also stemmed from an investigation into Facebook's privacy practices, prohibits the company from misrepresenting its data policies to users.

Facebook allegedly ran afoul of the decree in several ways, including by allowing Cambridge Analytica and other outside developers to access users' data. Facebook also allegedly violated the prior order by collecting phone numbers for security purposes but then using them for advertising, and misleading people about the use of facial recognition technology, according to the FTC's complaint.

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