US: Facebook anticipates an FTC privacy fine of up to $5 bn

Facebook said it expects a fine of up to $5 billion from the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating whether the social network violated its users’ privacy.

The company set aside $3 billion in its quarterly earnings report Wednesday as a contingency against the possible penalty but noted that the “matter remains unresolved.”

The one-time charge slashed Facebook’s first-quarter net income considerably, although revenue grew by 25% in the period. The FTC has been looking into whether Facebook broke its own 2011 agreement promising to protect user privacy.

“This matter is not resolved so the actual amount of payment remains uncertain,” David Wehner, Facebook’s CFO, said on a conference call with analysts on Wednesday after the earnings report. “However we are estimating this range of loss to be $3 to $5 billion.”

The fine would mark the first financial penalty for Facebook in the US since the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light last March. Since then, Facebook has also come under public scrutiny for offering more of its users’ data to companies than it had previously admitted.

Both incidents raised the prospect that Facebook had violated a 2011 consent agreement with the FTC, which required the social network to have a “comprehensive privacy program” and to get the “express consent” of users before sharing their data.

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