U.S. lawmakers criticize potential Facebook settlement with FTC

by Reuters
Monday, 6 May 2019 20:25 GMT

(Adds comment from Senator Mike Lee, others)

WASHINGTON, May 6 (Reuters) - Two U.S. senators on Monday criticized reported plans for a Federal Trade Commission settlement with Facebook Inc for misuse of consumers' personal data, saying that top officials, potentially including founder Mark Zuckerberg, must be held personally responsible.

In a letter to the FTC, Senators Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, and Josh Hawley, a Republican, told the agency that even a $5 billion civil penalty is a "bargain for Facebook."

The agency is also reportedly contemplating a settlement that elevates oversight of privacy policies and practices to Facebook's board of directors and requires the social media giant to be more aggressive in policing third-party app developers.

But that was inadequate, said Blumenthal and Hawley, who said the FTC should go further.

"It should consider setting rules of the road on what Facebook can do with consumers' private information, such as requiring the deletion of tracking data, restricting the collection of certain types of information, curbing advertising practices, and imposing a firewall on sharing private data between different products," they said in a letter to FTC Chairman Joe Simons.

The FTC has been investigating revelations that 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 agreement with the FTC to safeguard user privacy.

The two senators also urged the agency to name any Facebook official who was behind any violation of a consent decree. "Personal responsibility must be recognized from the top of the corporate board down to the product development teams," they wrote.

The FTC acknowledged receipt of the letter but declined to comment. Facebook declined to comment.

Senator Mike Lee, a Republican and chair of the Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, said he did not believe the Facebook CEO should be personally liable for future privacy lapses. "I haven't seen a valid basis for it," he said.

Others on Capitol Hill agreed with Blumenthal and Hawley.

David Cicilline tweeted last month that even a multi-billion dollar fine was a "slap on the wrist." "Facebook is a repeat offender, and it is critical that the commission's response is strong enough to prevent future violations," he said.

Senator Ron Wyden pushed the agency to hold Zuckerberg responsible in a letter written in late April.

"Mr. Zuckerberg is not merely the CEO of Facebook but he also controls a majority of the voting rights in the company. This control insulates him from accountability for Facebook's board and shareholders," wrote Wyden.

Rep. Frank Pallone, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has FTC oversight, said he believed the FTC probe of Facebook showed that the agency needed more clout.

"Regardless of the outcome of FTC's investigation into Facebook's privacy practices, it's abundantly clear the commission needs more enforcement power, rulemaking authority, and resources to effectively safeguard Americans' privacy and data security," he said. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by Dan Grebler)

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