Privacy-Minded Advocacy Groups Urge FTC to Regulate, Fine, or Even Break up Facebook

January 24, 2019, 11:44 PM UTC

Nine advocacy groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday, calling on regulators to break up Facebook and impose steep fines after the company’s repeated breaches of user privacy.

The letter, which was sent by privacy-minded groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Common Sense Media, and the Open Market Institute, outlined several remedies regulators could take against Facebook, including the most extreme: breaking up Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

A potential breakup would “restore competition and innovation for Internet messaging and photo app services, two important goals for the future of the Internet economy,” according to the letter.

The groups also urged the FTC to regulate (FB) Facebook like a “public utility” and to hold the company to regular reporting and routine inspection. Independent directors could also be appointed to “represent the interests of users and also examine the civil rights impacts of Facebook’s products and policies,” the groups said.

A Facebook representative declined to comment on the letter.

The call for increased regulation and scrutiny of Facebook comes one week after a report that the FTC may be getting ready to impose a steep fine on the company for violating a 2011 consent decree it made with regulators.

Long before Cambridge Analytica was a household name, Facebook was charged in a separate case with not keeping its privacy promise to users by allowing some information to be made public without warning.

“Facebook is obligated to keep the promises about privacy that it makes to its hundreds of millions of users,” Jon Leibowitz, then chairman of the FTC, said at the time. “Facebook’s innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not.”

As part of the agreement in 2011, Facebook remains liable for a $16,000-per-day penalty for violating each count of the settlement. Advocacy groups said in the letter they estimate a potential Facebook fine levied in 2019 could be more than $2 billion.

However, if regulators take action, it’s unclear how soon that could happen. With the government shutdown currently in its 34th day, no one at the FTC was immediately available for comment.