Facebook's FTC settlement delayed by political infighting, report says

And you thought Congress was bad. Apparently Democrats and Republicans on the FTC can't agree on a potentially $5 billion deal over Facebook's privacy breaches.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
2 min read
Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Last month, Facebook said it expected to pay at least $3 billion to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over privacy screwups that exposed private data of as many as 87 million people to the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. Turns out, there's a reason we haven't heard much more.

A Friday story in The Wall Street Journal said the FTC is split over the settlement deal, delaying its decision. While the story doesn't have many details, or speak of the debates on Capitol Hill about whether Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg should personally be named in the settlement, the story does indicate the FTC's Republican chairman, Joseph Simons, is struggling to win support among the commission's Democrats.

"A Republican-only decision could expose it to criticism by Democrats and diminish its impact for the enforcement agency, which has sometimes been criticized for being toothless on privacy in the past," the Journal wrote, citing anonymous sources.

An FTC spokeswoman declined to comment. A Facebook spokeswoman said, "We hope to reach an appropriate and fair resolution."

Facebook, the world's largest social network, with more than 2.3 billion people using it each month, has been under scrutiny over the past couple of years for a string of scandals around user privacy, fake news and corporate malfeasance. 

One of the most high profile dramas has been around Cambridge Analytica. Facebook found out the political consultancy had inappropriately purchased user data from an app developer in 2015, but the social network failed to inform users of the breach and force Cambridge to delete the data. The scandal led to multiple hearings in legislatures around the world, and a push among lawmakers in DC to begin regulating the tech industry.

The FTC's potential fine is the first meaningful response from DC since the scandal began. If it happens, Facebook's multibillion dollar fine will be the largest ever paid by a tech firm. The largest FTC fine before that was the $22.5 million the agency imposed on Google in 2012.

Originally published May 24, 1:08 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:35 p.m.: Adds more details and that the FTC declined to comment.