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Facebook will reportedly be fined a record $5 billion over privacy mishaps

The Federal Trade Commission is said to have approved a settlement with Facebook.

The FTC has been looking into whether Facebook violated a legal agreement it had with the US government to keep its users' data private.
Angela Lang/CNET

The Federal Trade Commission is expected to hit Facebook with a record-setting $5 billion fine for its alleged privacy mishaps, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported that commissioners voted this week to approve the settlement with the social network. 

The Republican majority favored the settlement, according to the report, which cited people familiar with the matter. The commission voted 3-2 to settle, the Journal reported.

The settlement, which still has to be finalized by the US Justice Department's civil division, would be larger than the record-setting $22.5 million the FTC imposed on Google in 2012. The FTC and Facebook declined to comment on the report.

The FTC started investigating Facebook last year after revelations surfaced that Cambridge Analytica, a UK political consultancy, accessed data from up to 87 million Facebook users without their permission. The agency is looking into whether Facebook violated a legal agreement it had with the US government to keep its users' data private.

Several advocacy groups and lawmakers expressed their displeasure with the FTC on Friday.

Robert Weissman, the president of consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen, said the reported settlement would let Facebook off the hook too easily.

"An effective settlement would have imposed not just a huge fine, but real restraints on the company going forward, structural reforms and substantive terms to protect user privacy," Weissman said in a statement. The FTC should have required Facebook to drop its plans to integrate its Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp services as part of the settlement, he said. 

Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said in a series of tweets that a $5 billion fine won't make Facebook "think twice about their responsibility to protect user data."

"The FTC just gave Facebook a Christmas present five months early," he said in the tweets. "It's very disappointing that such an enormously powerful company that engaged in such serious misconduct is getting a slap on the wrist."

The reported fine would be a fraction of the billions of dollars Facebook rakes in from advertising every year. Facebook reported $15.08 billion in sales in the first quarter.

Given this, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called the FTC settlement "a victory for Facebook" Friday afternoon, accusing the trade commission of letting the social network off easy despite allowing US elections to be influenced improperly.

"Just look to the markets. In the first 15 minutes after the settlement was reported, Facebook's market value went up by more than $5 billion," Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, tweeted. "Facebook made $5 billion in profits in just the first three months of last year. The company is too big to oversee, and this drop-in-the-bucket penalty confirms that."

Sen. Warren used the opportunity to repeat her calls for breaking up Facebook. "The FTC should break Facebook up, plain and simple. Enough is enough," she also tweeted Friday.

Warren's presidential platform includes a call to break up tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple because they have too much power over the economy, society and democracy.

CNET's Corinne Reichert contributed to this report.

Originally published July 12, 1:05 p.m. PT.
Update, 3:26 p.m.: Adds comment from Public Citizen. Update, 4:23 p.m.: Adds comment from Rep. Cicilline. Update, 5:22 p.m.: Adds comment from Sen. Warren.