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Facebook could be in hot water with the FTC — again

Facebook could face additional scrutiny from federal regulators after a ...

Posted: Dec 20, 2018 5:09 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2018 5:09 AM

Facebook could face additional scrutiny from federal regulators after a new report that it offered more of its users' data to companies than it had previously admitted.

The New York Times reported late Tuesday that Facebook shared user data with more than 150 companies, including several large technology firms, citing internal Facebook documents. Bing, Microsoft's search engine, was allowed to "see the names of virtually all Facebook users' friends without consent," according to the report, while Netflix and Spotify were given access to the private messages of Facebook users.

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The data sharing arrangements may have violated a 2011 consent agreement between Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission, former FTC officials and antitrust experts told CNN Business. The original agreement required Facebook to have a "comprehensive privacy program" and to get the "express consent" of users before sharing their data,

"The behavior described here is certainly inconsistent with that commitment," William Kovacic, FTC chairman under President George W. Bush, told CNN Business.

Facebook, for its part, pushed back at this assertion. "None of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people's permission, nor did they violate our 2012 settlement with the FTC," Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook's director of developer platforms and programs, wrote in a blog post Tuesday in response to the Times' report.

Facebook told the Times that the 2011 FTC agreement didn't require it to have explicit consent for sharing user data with these partners' platforms because Facebook considered them to be extensions of its social network, where users engage with their Facebook contacts.

Kovacic noted there could be some difference in how the company and the agency interpret the obligations agreed to in a consent order, but what ultimately matters is whether FTC officials believe the company has run afoul of the agreement and how aggressively they act.

Facebook stock was down more than 6% in midday trading Wednesday following the report.

In the wake of Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year, the FTC confirmed it had an open investigation into the company's data privacy practices. As the privacy scandals have continued to pile up, some former FTC officials now suggest Facebook may have violated the consent decree multiple times.

"I don't think there's any doubt that Facebook violated the consent decree. I think the question is, you know, how many violations there are," said David Vladeck, the director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection from 2009 to 2012. "I think there may be fresh violations."

A spokesperson for the FTC declined to comment for this story.

If the FTC does believe Facebook violated the agreement, the company could face a "stupendous fine" from the agency, according to Kovacic, potentially totaling in the billions. Others, like Ashkan Soltani, a former chief technologist at the FTC, think it's more likely the fine would be in the $500 million to $1 billion range.

As Soltani points out, FTC fines are more often in the millions, not the billions. While a fine of hundreds of millions of dollars would certainly be a blow to Facebook, it would not cripple the company, which made more than $5 billion in profit in the three months ending in September.

But a large fine levied against the company is only one of the FTC's levers.

Sally Hubbard, a former assistant attorney general in the New York state Attorney General's antitrust bureau, said the FTC could use the threat of taking Facebook to court as leverage to push the company into a stricter privacy agreement. It could also go after individual Facebook executives with fines.

"A lot of it will be based on the political will of the agency, in terms of whether they want to see this matter closed," Soltani said. In the past, he said, "a lot of the FTC settlements were not that strong."

But this time could be different. "This has emerged as a powerful test of the FTC's credibility as a privacy data protection authority," Kovacic said. "If it seems to conclude this in a way that is weak, it will suffer tremendously."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 154411

Reported Deaths: 3836
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10409104
Hinds10279202
Harrison7313112
Jackson6566128
Rankin5887106
Lee529496
Madison5014107
Forrest389786
Jones369088
Lauderdale3594147
Lafayette338253
Washington3246108
Lamar297850
Oktibbeha252362
Lowndes247064
Bolivar244384
Panola232653
Neshoba2249121
Marshall222851
Leflore208591
Monroe206778
Pontotoc204231
Lincoln197366
Sunflower192655
Warren180258
Tate177751
Union171926
Copiah167940
Pike165359
Yazoo160140
Scott159430
Itawamba157635
Alcorn155628
Pearl River155368
Coahoma152743
Simpson152653
Prentiss151331
Adams144752
Grenada143345
Leake139744
Holmes133461
Covington128639
Tippah128430
George128325
Winston125526
Hancock124341
Wayne121323
Marion119446
Attala119334
Tishomingo112443
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Newton108229
Tallahatchie98127
Clay94727
Clarke93653
Jasper85223
Stone80615
Calhoun78713
Walthall77629
Montgomery76926
Carroll74115
Lawrence73814
Smith73216
Yalobusha73128
Noxubee72717
Perry68326
Tunica62619
Greene61522
Jefferson Davis59017
Claiborne58916
Amite56615
Humphreys54719
Benton50018
Quitman5007
Webster46714
Kemper45018
Wilkinson40522
Jefferson37112
Choctaw3617
Franklin3555
Sharkey32417
Issaquena1204
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 252900

Reported Deaths: 3638
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson33526501
Mobile20103365
Madison13723151
Tuscaloosa13366154
Montgomery12552236
Shelby1079677
Baldwin9051137
Lee787266
Morgan696451
Calhoun6598121
Etowah656167
Marshall647357
Houston541038
DeKalb498137
Cullman462443
St. Clair441956
Limestone440445
Lauderdale426754
Elmore421164
Walker3735111
Talladega370157
Jackson340423
Colbert332042
Blount306140
Autauga281842
Franklin257434
Coffee250015
Dale239054
Dallas231532
Chilton228939
Russell22663
Covington225034
Escambia202331
Tallapoosa187291
Chambers182750
Pike161514
Clarke161019
Marion144736
Winston137523
Lawrence133436
Pickens126518
Geneva12508
Marengo123424
Bibb120418
Barbour118911
Butler118642
Randolph105522
Cherokee105124
Hale98131
Fayette94616
Washington93219
Clay92824
Henry8896
Monroe83011
Lowndes80929
Cleburne78814
Macon75522
Crenshaw72230
Bullock70119
Lamar7018
Conecuh70014
Perry6916
Wilcox64818
Sumter58622
Greene43518
Choctaw43114
Coosa3664
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