Federal judge approves $5 billion Facebook-FTC settlement over Cambridge Analytica

Federal judge approves $5 billion Facebook-FTC settlement over Cambridge Analytica
© Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday approved the $5 billion Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fine that Facebook agreed to pay last year over privacy violations stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The settlement — reached in July and the largest in the FTC's history — came after a lengthy investigation into Facebook.

The $5 billion agreement was criticized by lawmakers and other critics of Facebook who said the amount was too small given Facebook's massive profits, and that it let the platform off too easily.

ADVERTISEMENT

Several advocacy groups, including Public Citizen, Common Sense Media and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, had tried to stop the courts from approving the settlement.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, acknowledged the concerns in his opinion Thursday, saying they call into question laws governing technology companies.

However, he wrote, "those concerns are largely for Congress; they are not relevant here. Mindful of its proper role, and especially considering the deference to which the Executive's enforcement discretion is entitled, the Court will grant the consent motion and enter the order as proposed."

The FTC's investigation was launched in March 2018 after reports that data from tens of millions of Facebook users was shared with Cambridge Analytica. The probe had focused on whether the social media giant violated a 2011 consent agreement with the FTC requiring greater privacy protections and transparency for users.

Beyond the fine, the settlement also required Facebook to create an independent privacy committee and implement more privacy protections.

"This agreement has already brought fundamental changes to our company and advances in how we protect people's privacy beyond anything we've done before," Michel Protti, Facebook's chief product privacy officer, wrote in a blog post after the settlement was approved. "Most of all, it brings a new level of accountability and ensures that privacy is everyone's responsibility at Facebook."

ADVERTISEMENT

FTC Chairman Joe Simons praised the court's decision in a statement Friday.

“We are pleased with the Court’s decision," he said.

"As the Court notes, the historic $5 billion settlement is ‘by far’ the largest monetary penalty ever obtained by the United States on behalf of the FTC and the ‘second largest in any context.’ At the same time, the Court also highlights that the conduct relief included in this settlement will require Facebook ‘to consider privacy at every stage of its operations and provide substantially more transparency and accountability for its executives’ privacy-related decisions.’ ”