Facebook is facing a federal investigation that could hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable for privacy mishapsApril 19, 2019 Off By administrator
Federal regulators investigating Facebook for mishandling its users’ personal information have set their sights on the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, exploring his past statements on privacy and weighing whether to seek new, heightened oversight of his leadership.
The discussions about how to hold Zuckerberg accountable for Facebook’s data lapses have come in the context of wide-ranging talks between the Federal Trade Commission and Facebook that could settle the government’s more than year-old probe, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Both requested anonymity because the FTC’s inquiry is confidential under law.
Such a move could create new legal, political and public-relations headaches for one of Silicon Valley’s best known — and image conscious — corporate leaders. Zuckerberg is Facebook’s co-founder, chief executive, board chairman and most powerful stock owner, and a sanction from the federal government would be seen as a rare rebuke to him and the tech giant’s historic “move fast and break things” ethos.
Often, the FTC does not target executives in cases where it finds a company’s business practices have violated web users’ privacy. But critics said that targeting Zuckerberg could send a message to other tech giants that the agency is willing to hold top executives directly accountable for their firms’ repeated data misdeeds.
“The days of pretending this is an innocent platform are over, and citing Mark in a large scale enforcement action would drive that home in spades,” said Roger McNamee, an early investor in the company and one of Zuckerberg’s foremost critics.
In past investigations of Facebook, the U.S. government opted to spare Zuckerberg from the most onerous scrutiny. Documents obtained from the FTC under federal open-records rules reflect that the agency considered, then backed down, from putting Zuckerberg directly under order during its last settlement with Facebook in 2011. Had it done so, Zuckerberg could have faced fines for future privacy violations.
Asked about the negotiations, Facebook said in a statement it “hope[s] to reach an appropriate and fair resolution.” The FTC declined to comment for this story.
The FTC began investigating Facebook in March 2018 following reports that Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, improperly accessed data on roughly 87 million of the social networking site’s users. The federal probe has focused on whether Facebook violated an agreement, brokered with the FTC in 2011, that required the company to improve its privacy practices. Since then, Facebook has acknowledged a series of additional privacy lapses, including an admission Thursday that it mishandled millions of users’ passwords on Instagram, its photo-sharing service.