13 Jul 2019

Facebook: US report says record $US5b fine imposed for data breaches

1:38 pm on 13 July 2019

The US Federal Trade Commission has approved a $US5 billion ($NZ7.4b) settlement with Facebook over its investigation into the social media company's handling of user data, a source says.

Facebook website under a magnifying glass

Photo: 123RF

The FTC has been investigating allegations Facebook inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The probe has focused on whether the sharing of data and other disputes violated a 2011 consent agreement between Facebook and the regulator.

Shares of Facebook rose after the news was reported by the Wall Street Journal earlier on Friday and closed up 1.8 percent. Facebook earlier this year said it had set aside $US3b to pay for what it said could be a $5b penalty.

The settlement would be the largest civil penalty ever paid to the agency.

The FTC and Facebook declined to comment.

While the deal resolves a major regulatory headache for Facebook, the Silicon Valley firm still faces further potential anti-trust probes as the FTC and Justice Department undertake a wide-ranging review of competition among the biggest US tech companies. It is also facing public criticism from President Donald Trump and others about its planned cryptocurrency Libra over concerns about privacy and money laundering.

The Cambridge Analytica mis-steps, as well as anger over hate speech and misinformation on its platform, have also prompted calls from people ranging from presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren to a Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, for the government to force the social media giant to sell Instagram, which it bought in 2012, and WhatsApp, purchased in 2014.

But the company's core business has proven resilient, as Facebook blew past earnings estimates in the past two quarters.

While details of the agreement are unknown, in a letter to the FTC earlier this year, Senators Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, and Josh Hawley, a Republican, told the agency that even a $5 billion civil penalty was too little and that top officials, potentially including founder Mark Zuckerberg, should be held personally responsible.

United States Senator Richard Blumenthal (Democrat of Connecticut) during the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights hearing

Senator Richard Blumenthal is among US politicians wanting Facebook executives to be held accountable for the misuse of users' private data. Photo: AFP

The settlement still needs to be finalised by the Justice Department's Civil Division and a final announcement could come as early as next week, the source said.

The FTC is expected to include other government restrictions on how Facebook treats user privacy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A source knowledgeable about the settlement negotiations had told Reuters in May any agreement would put it under 20 years of oversight.

- Reuters

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