Senator Markey Blasts FTC Facebook Privacy Settlement
Washington (July 24, 2019) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) released the following statement after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced its settlement with Facebook over consumer privacy violations.
“With its settlement with Facebook, the FTC not only fell short, it fell on its face. Facebook is getting away with some of the most egregious corporate bad behavior in the age of the internet,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “This settlement is a partisan abdication of the FTC’s duty. The only market-wide message the Commission is sending is that it is acceptable for online giants to beg for forgiveness afterward rather than get permission first. The FTC is giving little confidence to the American people that Facebook and other online companies will now have to operate within a new incentive structure that will end the profits-over-privacy status quo.
“Those who argue that this penalty will impact Facebook’s bottom line have already been proven wrong. Facebook’s stock went up after it was reported earlier this year that it would be fined $5 billion by the FTC, making Mark Zuckerberg $1 billion richer. A $5 billion fine may appear large, but it amounts to a slap on the wrist in comparison to the revenue that Facebook rakes in, all the while its users continue to learn in the headlines about new ways their sensitive information has been used and shared without their permission and subsequently compromised. The monetary penalty in this decision fails to deter future bad behavior, and this settlement is also notably deficient in its lack of new safeguards that would effectively prohibit similar privacy violations in the future.
“The new rules placed on Facebook in this consent decree fail to systematically change Facebook’s internal infrastructure and put a stop to its privacy malpractice once and for all. This settlement does not adequately address the threats to child and teen users on Facebook, the need for increased transparency about Facebook’s practices, and the imperative for individuals to be held accountable for violating consumer trust. It should disturb all of us that this agreement between Facebook and the FTC appears to broadly shield the company from accountability for other violations of the user privacy, including misuse of children’s data.”
“If only the litany of sins perpetrated by Facebook was limited to privacy breaches, but it is not. They have acknowledged failing to block social media users in Myanmar who used the platform to incite violence that led to genocide against the Rohingya. Facebook gave dozens of device makers access to user data, including Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications company that American intelligence officials believe is a national security threat. Facebook allowed political ads to be bought and placed under anyone’s name, in direct contradiction to the company’s own commitment to make political advertising more transparent.
“Facebook does not have to admit any fault as a result of this settlement. It doesn’t have to limit the amount of data it collects. It still gets to move forward with its Libra cryptocurrency. If Facebook cannot be trusted with America’s private information, why should it be trusted with its money? This outcome is an insult to consumers, and it only increases the urgency for Congress to pass my Privacy Bill of Rights Act and my bipartisan update to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Congress must act now.”
In May of 2018, Senator Markey wrote to the FTC urging the Commission to require new privacy safeguards that Facebook should implement, including requiring Facebook to cease all tracking of users across websites after users have logged out of their Facebook accounts, suspending deployment of facial recognition tools, and making audits of Facebook privacy practices available to the public. Earlier this month, Senator Markey again wrote to the FTC expressing disapproval of the reported contours of the new Facebook privacy settlement, slamming the Commission’s $5 Billion fine and demanding answers about the FTC’s process for arriving at this settlement.
He has also written to the FTC urging it to investigate evidence that Facebook knowingly manipulated children into spending their parents’ money without permission while playing games on Facebook and demanded answers from Facebook regarding its sharing of user data with device companies. Senator Markey has consistently conducted oversight of Facebook and its privacy practices since 2010.