The Federal Trade Commission is haggling over whether to hold Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally responsible for mishandling the privacy data of millions of users, The New York Times reported Saturday, citing anonymous sources.
The FTC, which is made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, appears split on a proposal that would hold the billionaire personally responsible for mishandling privacy data and violating a 2011 agreement. The proposal would also likely slap a historic, multi-billion fine against the company.
Joseph Simons, the commission’s Republican chairman, appeared to have the votes of the other two Republican commissioners, TheNYT reported, citing two sources who commented on the condition of anonymity. He believes that the Silicon Valley giant must pay a severe fine, yet Simons is hesitant to come down too hard on Zuckerberg himself.
“When you get to a position when threatening to name individuals and make them personally liable, companies are less likely to settle and you end up having to litigate a lot more than you would otherwise,” Simons said Thursday at a privacy conference in Washington, D.C. “You have to think are you getting sufficient relief for consumers without having to name these people as a sufficient deterrent.”
Other Republicans on Capitol Hill have made similar comments. “It’s one thing if Facebook were an entity that itself couldn’t be held liable,” Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah told TheNYT in an interview.“To hold a C.E.O. liable is extraordinary and not needed here.” Simon’s reticence to push further is meeting some criticism among at least one of the other members.
Rohit Chopra, one of the two Democrats on the commission, for instance, has publicly urged stronger punishment of repeated offenders, especially Facebook executives who oversee the company’s privacy data. He wrote a memo to staff members shortly after joining the FTC saying the agency should address “management deficiencies through structural remedies, including the dismissal of senior management.”
Simons, a long-time anti-trust lawyer, joined the FTC shortly after the agency began its investigation into Facebook. Two other Republicans, Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson, and two Democrats, Rebecca Slaughter and Mr. Chopra, were confirmed by the Senate as the other commissioners at the same time.
Their investigation began a year ago after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that worked with the Trump campaign, obtained Facebook user data on millions of people without their knowledge or consent leading up to the 2016 election. The company maintains that Cambridge Analytica’s decision to share the data was a violation of Facebook rules.
Facebook expects to be fined between $3 billion and $5 billion. Facebook has not responded to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about the nature of the skirmish, and the FTC is refusing to comment.
Media reports show that the company used privacy data as leverage over competitors. In one case, Facebook allegedly gave Amazon premium access to data for its new smart phone, but phased out access for a messaging application that threatened a similar app Facebook managed.
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