Key Democrat presses FTC over Facebook settlement's 'dangerous precedent'

Key Democrat presses FTC over Facebook settlement's 'dangerous precedent'
© Aaron Schwartz

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellOvernight Energy: Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest| Democrats inch closer to issuing subpoenas for Interior, EPA records| Trump's plan to boost ethanol miffs corn groups and the fossil fuel industry Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits MORE (D-Wash.) is pressing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over its controversial $5 billion settlement with Facebook, questioning whether the agreement sets a "dangerous precedent" for the future of the agency.  

In a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons on Thursday, Cantwell demanded more information about the settlement, particularly the sections that resolve any privacy violation allegations made against Facebook between 2012-2019.

"I am concerned that the settlement lets Facebook off the hook for unspecified violations, and given the many public reports of Facebook’s mishandling of consumer data, it is difficult to fully understand the impact of this provision on the settlement on the data privacy protection of the millions of U.S. consumers that have used and continue to use Facebook," Cantwell wrote to the chairman. 


Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote that she is concerned Facebook "will not face another penalty" from the FTC over privacy violations that may have occurred between 2012, the year it came under a consent agreement, and 2019, when it was penalized for violating that agreement. 

She is also questioning whether the settlement went too easy on Facebook executives. 

"I am concerned that the release of Facebook and its officers from legal liability is far too broad and sets a dangerous precedent for future Commission actions," she wrote. 

Cantwell is asking for responses to 10 detailed questions about the scope of the FTC's investigation, the precedent for releasing Facebook's executives from liability for privacy violations, and the effect of that liability shield.

Over the summer, the FTC found that Facebook had violated its 2012 consent decree with the commission, which drew guidelines around how Facebook could collect user data.

Almost as soon as the FTC announced its $5 billion settlement with Facebook in July, bipartisan lawmakers in both chambers emerged with scathing criticism, calling the agreement a slap on the wrist for a company that recorded almost $56 billion in revenue last year. 

As part of the settlement, Facebook is not required to admit to any wrongdoing; the agreement requires the company to create a privacy committee within its board of directors to review company decisions and provide more oversight of Chairman and CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergOn The Money: Supreme Court takes up challenge to CFPB | Warren's surge brings scrutiny to wealth tax | Senators eye curbs on Trump emergency powers Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter knocks Zuckerberg for invoking her father while defending Facebook MORE

The FTC voted for the settlement along party lines, with both Democratic commissioners dissenting in separate statements claiming Facebook escaped relatively unscathed. The commission has alleged that Facebook deceived its users about their privacy protections while allowing third parties to harvest their data, claiming the company failed to establish a "reasonable privacy program." 

Cantwell is involved in negotiations with Senate Commerce Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (R-Miss.) to work up the country's first federal privacy law, which would limit how large tech companies like Facebook can collect and use sensitive user data. 

Those privacy bill talks have stalled in recent months as lawmakers remain divided over how far the law should go.