Judge gives final approval to Facebook’s record privacy settlement

Photo (c) David Tran - Getty Images

Facebook will pay $5 billion and make structural changes to enhance privacy

Facebook has finally closed the book on 2018’s Cambridge Analytica scandal as a federal judge has given final approval to the social media company’s $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

The settlement won approval last July, but Facebook critics who were concerned about the social media giant’s privacy policies went to court to block the settlement, arguing it wasn’t harsh enough. After hearing all sides over a 10-month period, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly put his stamp of approval on the deal.

“We are pleased with the Court’s decision,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “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.’”

Simons also pointed to the settlement’s conduct relief that 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.

Previous settlement

The massive fine was due in part to the fact that the FTC had also charged Facebook with violating a 2012 FTC order by deceiving users about their ability to control the privacy of their personal information.

The latest complaint stemmed from a 2018 revelation that Cambridge Analytica, a political marketing firm, had gained unauthorized access to Facebook user data in order to target political ads on behalf of 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump and the campaign for the UK to leave the European Union.

The settlement order imposes what the FTC calls “unprecedented new restrictions on Facebook’s business operations” while creating multiple channels of compliance. 

Restructured approach to privacy

The agency says the order requires Facebook to restructure its approach to privacy from the corporate board-level down, and it holds Facebook executives personally accountable for the decisions they make about privacy. The FTC said Facebook’s privacy decisions will be subject to meaningful oversight going forward.

“Despite repeated promises to its billions of users worldwide that they could control how their personal information is shared, Facebook undermined consumers’ choices,” Simons said.

In a blog post, Michel Protti, Facebook’s chief privacy officer for product, said the agreement with the government had already brought about “fundamental changes to our company” and improved how it protects users’ privacy.

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