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The FTC will hit Facebook with a $5 billion fine over privacy violations

Mark Zuckerberg as he testified before Congress in April 2018.
Bill Clark/Getty Images

Facebook has agreed to a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over its numerous “privacy missteps,” according to a new report.

The three Republican FTC commissioners voted  to approve the massive settlement, while the two Democratic commissioners objected, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the agreement on Friday.

It’s now up to the Justice Department’s civil division to finalize the settlement, though the department rarely overturns any FTC settlements. Once it goes through, this would the largest FTC fines ever for a major technology company. The previous record was a $22.5 million fine against Google in 2012.

That said, it’s a drop in the bucket for Facebook: $5 billion is not even 10% of the $55 billion the company made in ad revenue in 2018

We reached out to Facebook to get more clarity, but a spokesperson would not confirm the settlement and declined to comment any further.

It’s not entirely clear how Facebook would avoid any “privacy missteps” in the future, though the Wall Street Journal said the settlement is expected to include “other government restrictions on how Facebook treats user privacy.” We’ve contacted the FTC for more details, but a spokeswoman declined to comment or confirm the settlement.

Facebook has spent much of the past year under fire for the way it treats users’ personal data. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which came to light in 2018 after the data analytics firm was found to have improperly mined private information from as many as 87 million accounts, was a turning point that set off the FTC investigation. Since then, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has testified before Congress and said he wants to build a “privacy-focused social platform.”

At the same time, a lawyer for Facebook said in court that users shouldn’t expect any privacy on the site.

The company said in April that it planned to pay up to $5 billion for the FTC investigation into Cambridge Analytica. The FTC vote came after a divide between Democrats and Republicans: the Democratic commissioners wanted more oversight over Facebook, but were outvoted by their GOP colleagues.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated with additional information.

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