Privacy group asks judge to hear from critics before approving $5B Facebook settlement

Privacy group asks judge to hear from critics before approving $5B Facebook settlement
© Greg Nash

A privacy group is asking a federal judge to carefully review the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) $5 billion privacy settlement with Facebook and to hear from public interest organizations before approving the agreement.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a motion to intervene with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday, arguing that it has legal grounds to brief the court because it helped drive the FTC to take action against Facebook through a series of complaints against the company.

“If the proposed settlement is adopted, EPIC’s prior complaints at the FTC will be dismissed,” the group said in its filing. “Thus, EPIC has a clear interest in the outcome of this case.”

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The settlement has been roundly criticized by privacy advocates and Facebook’s growing chorus of critics on Capitol Hill since it was announced on Wednesday. 

In addition to the $5 billion fine, the deal requires Facebook to submit to increased monitoring and to install a committee within its board of directors to review the social network’s privacy practices.

But critics say that the agreement falls short because it doesn’t hold executives like CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook tells Trump administration it will not create messaging 'backdoor' for law enforcement LGBTQ groups accuse Facebook ads of spreading misinformation about HIV drugs Trump, Pelosi on shortlist for Time Person of the Year MORE accountable for Facebook’s behavior and it does nothing to actually restrict Facebook’s ability to abuse user privacy.

“The proposed Consent Decree does not adequately address the consumer privacy complaints raised against Facebook by the FTC, numerous consumer privacy groups like EPIC, and individuals,” EPIC’s court filing reads. “EPIC’s arguments will assist the Court in reviewing the proposed Consent Decree and achieving a just and equitable adjudication in this case.”

Courts rarely block consent agreements from going into effect, but EPIC argued that there are a number of procedural and substantive issues with the order that provide reasons for the court not to adopt it.
 
The group argued that the FTC ignored its own mandate to review consumer complaints regarding a company that's operating under a consent agreement.
 
EPIC also alleged that there are no restrictions imposed on Facebook to accomplish the agency's goal of protecting consumer privacy.
 
An FTC spokesperson disputed EPIC's argument, arguing that the agency order cited a consumer group complaint in imposing consent requirements on Facebook's facial recognition technology.
 
"As part of its over year-long investigation, the FTC investigated the complaints filed by consumer advocacy groups and, to the extent appropriate, addressed them in its order against Facebook," the spokesperson said in a statement. "We believe this settlement will provide immediate benefits to U.S. consumers. The $5 billion civil penalty resets the baseline for privacy cases and serves as an important deterrent for future order violations."
 
-- Updated at 2:14 p.m.