Senators Urge Harsh Penalty For Facebook, Say A $5 Billion Hit Would Be A ‘Bargain’

The tech giant has been criticized for improperly handling consumer data, and lawmakers want more than money.

Two top senators ― one Democrat and one Republican ― urged the Federal Trade Commission to take a hard line against Facebook on Monday amid an ongoing controversy over the social media giant’s use of consumer data, saying the company needs to be pushed to change.

In a letter to the FTC’s chairman, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) lambasted Facebook for what they called “blatant and brazen” behavior that resulted in the political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica harvesting the personal data of 87 million users. The senators said they were troubled by reports that Facebook expects to pay $3 billion to $5 billion in penalties — in what would be a record fine against a tech behemoth — noting that for such a large company the number would merely be “a write-down” that would do little to deter privacy violations.

“Fines alone are insufficient. Far-reaching reforms must finally hold Facebook accountable to customers,” the lawmakers wrote, calling the rumored $5 billion fine “a bargain.” “We are deeply concerned that one-time penalties of any size every few years are woefully inadequate to effectively restrain Facebook.”

Two top lawmakers said that, aside from any monetary penalty imposed on Facebook, company employees should be held personally
Two top lawmakers said that, aside from any monetary penalty imposed on Facebook, company employees should be held personally accountable for any involvement in privacy violations. 

The FTC has been investigating Facebook since March 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal first broke, looking into whether the company violated a 2011 agreement that was crafted to protect user privacy, according to The New York Times.

Blumenthal and Hawley recommended that FTC Chairman Joseph Simons ensure that the organization levy long-standing limits on what type of data the company can collect and how it is used. The senators also urged the FTC to hold responsible any individual executives and any management personnel responsible for improper handling of information, alluding that they hope Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or others could be punished for their actions.

“Personal responsibility must be recognized from the top of the corporate board down to the product development teams,” they wrote. “If the FTC finds that any Facebook executive knowingly broke the consent order or violated the law, it must name them in any further action.”

Facebook has continued to flourish despite the scandal. The company reported revenue in excess of $15 billion for the first quarter of the year and said that more people are using the social network than ever.

The two senators concluded their letter with a call to action, noting that a strict punishment could send a signal to other tech firms in Silicon Valley and beyond.

“The Facebook investigation will be a defining moment for the Commission,” they wrote. “It must be seen as a strong protector of consumer privacy and begin to set a new era of enforcement. … Action is overdue.”