But FTC refrains from imposing strict limits on Facebook’s data practices, adding to criticism that the penalty is a slap on the wrist
Regulators have approved a record-breaking fine of $5 billion (£4bn) for Facebook’s involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year, according to US reports.
The Federal Trade Commission approved the fine in a secret 3-to-2 vote last week, sources told US news media.
The fine is controversial because, while large, it is a drop in the the social media giant’s coffers and as such is seen by some as a slap on the wrist.
Facebook said earlier this year it had set aside funds to pay a fine of up to $5bn.
Facebook also agreed to broader oversight as part of the settlement, but the deal does not impose strict limitations on Facebook’s ability to collect user data and share it with third parties, reports said.
That could add to the perception of ineffective regulatory controls.
Facebook was already subject to oversight as part of an earlier FTC settlement reached in 2011, following previous privacy violations, and this arrangement failed to stop the Cambridge Analytica breach from occurring, critics have pointed out.
Last week’s FTC vote was split along party lines due to this factor, with Democrats pushing for stricter sanctions, reports said.
“With the FTC either unable or unwilling to put in place reasonable guardrails to ensure that user privacy and data are protected, it’s time for Congress to act,” said US Senator Mark Warner.
The FTC began its probe into the Cambridge Analytica affair in March 2018, looking into whether the now-defunct political consultancy’s access to data on some 87 million Facebook users had violated the terms of the 2011 agreement.
The deal must still be approved by the Justice Department, which rarely rejects FTC settements.
Facebook’s shares rose by about 1.8 percent on the news.
The fine is the regulator’s largest of a technology company, surpassing by far the $22m penalty levied on Google in 2012.
To date the European Union has been the source of the biggest fines against tech firms, with actions filed against the likes of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
The EU fined Google 4.34bn euros (£3.8bn) last year for abusing its large smartphone market share.
In October the UK data protection watchdog fined Facebook £500,000 over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the maximum allowed under the rules in effect at the time the investigation began.
The stricter GDPR data protection laws came into effect in May of last year.