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FTC and DOJ announce $5 billion privacy settlement with social media company; SEC settles for $100 million

Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FTC DOJ Settlement SEC FTC Act

Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

On July 24, the FTC and the DOJ officially announced (see here and here) that the world’s largest social media company will pay a $5 billion penalty to settle allegations that it mishandled its users’ personal information. As previously covered by InfoBytes, it was reported on July 12 that the FTC approved the penalty, in a 3-2 vote. This is the largest privacy penalty ever levied by the agency, almost “20 times greater than the largest privacy or data security penalty ever imposed worldwide,” and one of the largest ever assessed by the U.S. government for any violation. According to the complaint, filed the same day as the settlement, the company allegedly used deceptive disclosures and settings to undermine users’ privacy preferences in violation of a 2012 privacy settlement with the FTC, which allowed the company to share users’ data with third-party apps that were downloaded by users’ “friends.” Moreover, the complaint alleges that many users were unaware the company was sharing the information, and therefore did not take the steps needed to opt-out of the sharing. Relatedly, the FTC also announced a separate action against a British consulting and data analytics firm for allegedly using deceptive tactics to “harvest personal information from millions of [the social media company’s] users.”

In addition to the monetary penalty, the 20-year settlement order overhauls the company’s privacy program. Specifically, the order, among other things, (i) establishes an independent privacy committee of the company’s board of directors; (ii) requires the company to designate privacy program compliance officers who can only be removed by the board’s privacy committee; (iii) requires an independent third-party assessor to perform biennial assessments of the company’s privacy program; (iv) requires the company to conduct a specific privacy review of every new or modified product, service, or practice before it is implemented; and (v) mandates that the company report any incidents in which data of 500 or more users have been compromised to the FTC.

In dissenting statements, Commissioner Chopra and Commissioner Slaughter asserted that the settlement, while historic, does not contain terms that would effectively deter the company from engaging in future violations. Commissioner Slaughter argues, among other things, that the civil penalty is insufficient and believes the order should have contained “meaningful limitations on how [the company] collects, uses, and shares data.” Similarly, Commissioner Chopra argues that the order imposes no meaningful changes to the company’s structure or financial incentives, and the immunity provided to the company’s officers and directors is unwarranted.

On the same day, the SEC announced that the company also agreed to pay $100 million to settle allegations that it mislead investors about the risks it faced related to the misuse of its consumer data. The SEC’s complaint alleges that in 2015, the company was aware of the British consulting and data analytics firm’s misuse of its consumer data but did not correct its disclosures for more than two years. Additionally, the SEC alleges the company failed to have policies and procedures in place during that time that would assess the results of internal investigations for the purposes of making accurate disclosures in public filings. The company neither admitted nor denied the allegations.

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