Facebook could create new privacy positions as part of FTC settlement

The Federal Trade Commission is in the midst of negotiating a settlement with Facebook that would require the company to strengthen its privacy practices by creating new privacy-focused positions at the company, according to a new report from Politico.

The deal isn’t final, and the provisions of the settlement won’t be official until the FTC formally announces it. According to reports, Facebook has agreed to create a new privacy oversight committee that may include Facebook board members. Mark Zuckerberg may also take on a new role as the “designated compliance officer.” This would make him personally responsible for how Facebook upholds user data privacy.

The privacy committee would meet quarterly and review Facebook’s privacy practices. Also included is the role of an “external assessor” who would be appointed by both the privacy committee and the FTC. That person would analyze whether the company is complying with the FTC’s order and Facebook’s own privacy policies.

Facebook disclosed last week in its quarterly earnings that it expects to be fined anywhere from $3 to $5 billion following a year-long investigation by the FTC into the company’s privacy practices. Many saw the fine as a relatively minor penalty compared to Facebook’s $6.8 billion in quarterly profits.

The new position is unlikely to sway any critics who found the proposed fines to be insufficient. Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, sees the proposed positions as toothless, a sign that the current FTC isn’t capable of reining in Facebook. “It’s a joke,” Stoller said. “The FTC’s budget should be cut to match the scale of its sloth.”

In January, groups like Open Markets, Color of Change, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote to the FTC requesting that major structural changes be included in this settlement. This included breaking off Instagram and WhatsApp into their own companies once more.

Carl Szabo, NetChoice vice president and general counsel, said that the multibillion-dollar fine was already a big enough statement for the FTC. “Despite a potentially record setting fine against Facebook, for anti tech activists nothing short of a total business shutdown or break-up seems to be enough,” Szabo told The Verge. “This is not a slam dunk case for the FTC and if the FTC tries to go beyond just a [financial penalty] they will lose in court.”

The FTC’s investigation began shortly after news surrounding the company’s Cambridge Analytica scandal surfaced. As a result of the scandal, up to 87 million users had their data breached by the political data firm, which worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

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