Facebook Hit With Record $5 Billion FTC Fine Over Data Breaches

The social network will appoint an independent privacy oversight committee as part of the settlement

The Federal Trade Commission said it had reached a record $5 billion settlement with Facebook on Wednesday over the company’s mishandling of user data. The settlement comes after the social network has been skewered for several privacy issues in the last 18 months — most notably its failure to alert up to 87 million users that their profile information had been accessed without consent by Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm.

“Despite repeated promises to its billions of users worldwide that they could control how their personal information is shared, Facebook undermined consumers’ choices,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a release. “The relief is designed not only to punish future violations but, more importantly, to change Facebook’s entire privacy culture to decrease the likelihood of continued violations.”

The $5 billion fine easily trumps the FTC’s largest penalty to this point– a $22.5 million fine against Google for covertly circumventing Safari privacy settings in 2012. Facebook, which will reports its Q2 earnings on Wednesday afternoon, pulled in $15.1 billion in revenue during the first quarter.

Facebook will face “unprecedented new restrictions” on its business operations, according to the FTC, including establishing “strong new mechanisms to ensure that Facebook executives are accountable for the decisions they make about privacy, and that those decisions are subject to meaningful oversight.”

As part of its settlement, Facebook will create a privacy oversight committee created with independent members. The members can only be fired by a supermajority of Facebook’s board, not by CEO Mark Zuckerberg alone. Zuckerberg and other newly appointed compliance officers must also submit to quarterly FTC check-ins; any false information shared could open Facebook up to additional fines and penalties, according to the FTC.

“We have a responsibility to protect people’s privacy. We already work hard to live up to this responsibility, but now we’re going to set a completely new standard for our industry,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post on Wednesday morning.

Facebook shares dropped about 1% in early morning trading.

The FTC’s fine comes a day after the Justice Department announced it would look into potential anti-competitive practices from major tech companies.

Sean Burch

Sean Burch

Tech reporter • sean.burch@thewrap.com • @seanb44