In 2011, Facebook resolved a case with the Federal Trade Commission and signed a unique agreement in which it undertook to follow several guidelines to protect the privacy of users. It is very possible that the Cambridge Analytica scandal this year has shown that Facebook violated that agreement and could face fines of "trillions of dollars". But eight months later, the FTC will not say what is happening with its investigation.
On Tuesday, the FTC commissioners came before the Consumer Protection Subcommittee of the Senate to discuss the agency's current priorities. At the top of the list of concerns of virtually all senators was what the FTC is doing to protect consumer privacy and hold technology companies accountable. In his opening statement, the chairman of the Republican subcommittee, Senator Jerry Moran, criticized the recent data breaches experienced by Facebook and Google, and acknowledged that it is quite clear that it is time to pass a federal law on consumer data privacy. . He said he hopes to work with the FTC to develop that legislation and learn what tools the agency needs to do its job.
If the FTC is, in fact, doing its job and investigating whether Facebook has violated its 2011 consent decree, the agency's president, Joseph Simons, would not say so. When Senator Richard Blumenthal asked Simons when the FTC investigation would be completed and when the results would be presented to the public, Simons would only say: "It is inappropriate for me to comment on a specific non-public investigation." That was the standard answer to any question about his research, even when Senator Edward Markey asked if the FTC is investigating YouTube and the controversial targeting of children with deceptive marketing practices by Google.
There were two major issues that surfaced again and again during the hearing: the FTC's assertion that it needs more resources and the recognition of all that the agency has a poor track record in the application. In his opening statement, Commissioner Rohit Chopra joined the two issues, saying that all too often the FTC is willing to accept an agreement to avoid costly prosecution. "While large fines are levied for good headlines, I wonder if they really deterred the infringement of the law," Chopra said.
This point makes it even more evident that the agency has an excellent case in hand to use as an example that will continue to apply its threats. Facebook admitted that it mishandled the data of 87 million users and let it fall into the hands of a political data analysis firm that worked for Trump's election campaign. This is something I was aware of in 2015, but it was only made public in March. The developer of the application that absorbed all that information from Facebook asked users for permission, but did not get permission to collect data from users' friends. That could be a violation of the 2011 Consent Decree, in which Facebook agreed to notify users and obtain explicit permission before sharing data with a third party that is not included in users' privacy settings.
In March, the Washington Post spoke with David Vladeck, former FTC point in the Facebook agreement. Vladeck told the Post that the Cambridge Analytica case "raises serious questions about compliance with the FTC consent decree." Facebook rejected "any suggestion of a violation of the consent decree", but Vladeck still said he expected the FTC to initiate an investigation. . Although Vladeck told the Post that Facebook could face a "billions of dollars" fine, due to his agreement to pay $ 40,000 for violation, he doubted that the agency would impose such a heavy hand.
Still, the FTC could do something, anything really. It has been strange to hear calls from Facebook investors since the scandal erupted earlier this year and never hear any question about possible fines that could come. It's almost like investors do not have faith that the FTC will do its job. I can not think of a better way for the agency to prove that this notion is incorrect.[C-Span]