The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finally announced details of its settlement agreement with Facebook over the theft of user data in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And after years of violating privacy practises, it’s safe to say that the social media giant is about to get what it deserves, 'a slap on the wrist'.
Although the record $5 billion-dollar settlement may seem like a lot to regular people or even fairly large businesses, it is what Facebook makes in approximately one month. But that’s not the only reason we call this a mere 'slap on the wrist', the settlement also does little to hold Facebook accountable.
Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter wrote in her own dissent statement, “The fact that Facebook’s stock value increased with the disclosure of a potential $5 billion penalty may suggest that the market believes that a penalty at this level makes violation profitable.”
But it isn’t all about money. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg weren’t even grilled by the FTC, which seems fundamental considering the investigation alleged complicity at the top-level. None of Facebook’s high-level executives was even charged because going after individuals is far more complex. Not only is it more expensive to go after individuals, it also requires separate fact-finding and time-consuming litigation. There is always a chance of the judge ruling against FTC and officially exonerating defendants.
Not only did the FTC not take any risk, its settlement also gave Facebook full immunity, a blank sheet to start over. The settlement not only gives the company and its executives immunity from violations claimed by FTC, but also immunity for violations the FTC hasn’t claimed as well. So, if some revealing information between 2012–18 comes to light on July 26, Facebook and its executives have top-to-bottom immunity from that information.
In his Dissenting Statement, Commissioner Rohit Chopra wrote, “It is akin to federal regulators, instead of ordering automakers to install seat belts, ordered them to document the pros and cons of installing seat belts, and to decide for themselves whether it would be worthwhile.”
What the FTC’s settlement does in regards to preventing Facebook’s continued monetisation of mass surveillance is pretty-much ‘nothing’ more than a ‘slap on the wrist’.