FTC Fines Facebook $5 Billion for Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal

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The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has approved a roughly $5 billion settlement in Facebook over the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, according to a new report.

The FTC approved the settlement in a 3-2 vote along party lines (with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposing), The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post reported on Friday. The media outlets cited a source familiar with the matter who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

It’s the largest single penalty levied against a tech company thus far, surpassing the $22.5 million fine the FTC slapped on Google in 2012. Additionally, the settlement signals that the FTC’s lengthy investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices could soon come to an end.

A fine isn’t the only way that the FTC could establish itself as a data privacy protector. It could also implement new restrictions on how Facebook handles data. According to the Associated Press, the agency may even hold CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally accountable.

The FTC opened an investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices back in March 2018 after reports indicated that British firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed the Facebook data of roughly 87 million users without their permission. That incident may have violated a previous agreement that Facebook inked with the FTC to protect user privacy in 2011.

Reports also suggest that the FBI and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission may be in the midst of their own Facebook investigations.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal wasn’t the end of Facebook’s privacy woes, however. Since then, the Menlo Park firm has seen other data privacy and leak controversies.

Last year, a flaw in a Facebook feature allowed hackers to gain access to other user accounts. And in February, Facebook was found to be abusing its Apple enterprise developer certificate to side-load data harvesting apps onto users iPhones. Most recently, Facebook admitted back in April that “millions” of Instagram users may have had their passwords revealed.

Facebook warned investors earlier this year that it could be penalized between $3 and $5 billion. In the wake of the WSJ report, investors appear to be relieved that the fine wasn’t higher — Facebook’s stock was up nearly 2 percent at close on Friday.

It’s worth noting that Facebook is also in the midst of a privacy-focused overhaul of its platforms.

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