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article imageOp-Ed: Facebook in the firing line — Big fine, 20 years FTC oversight?

By Paul Wallis     May 15, 2019 in Internet
Menlo Park - Facebook’s big privacy issues have led to a pretty hardline range of options. The company could pay up to $5 billion as a fine, and be subject to 20 years of privacy oversight following charges by the FTC for the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.
Facebook could be up for an unparalleled fine. The previous highest fine was paid by Google in 2012, a mere $22 million. $5 billion is a true benchmark. The company put aside $3 billion as a contingency, but available information isn’t at all clear on whether a fine is payable, or how much the fine might be.
Cambridge Analytica was directly connected to the Trump presidential campaign, and set the benchmarks for use of data during the campaign. The resulting meltdown, whistle blowers, and a raft of privacy issues turned Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook Big Data operations into a maze of legal issues.
Cleaning up the online privacy mess
If nothing else, this legal situation will be the beginning of better online privacy law, directly or indirectly. The old days of internet immunity were largely fictional. The mere fact something is said or done online doesn’t give it any legal protection at all. The law has been far too slow to get case law in place, and the main sufferers have been the online users.
The issues are big enough:
• For consumers, rattled at constant targeting by ad software, privacy is a very real issue. The security of personal privacy is at best nominal, and poorly protected.
• Legally, there is no exemption anywhere on Earth for criminal actions like hacking, data theft, and certainly not for personal information theft or abuse. Yet the law and legislators have been comatose on these issues for decades.
• Cambridge Analytica was the first case of data usage for political purposes. Its bastard offspring, fake news, has been a plague around the world. These two unholy situations sprang directly from Cambridge Analytica’s social media data gathering.
• In the United States, the question of political will to manage these issues is at best unpredictable. Legislation is dysfunctional, and polarized motives for legislation don’t help at all.
• Privacy laws worldwide leave a lot to be desired. What’s supposed to be private, by law? What level of legal traction does a personal privacy claim have, under these very vague regulatory whims? Shouldn’t you be able to make a privacy claim on anything you want to be private, rather than “whatever”, the usual legal situation?
Facebook isn’t the big problem
Facebook. for all its faults and good and bad features, has been the training ground for a lot of social media issues. We can safely assume this regulatory asteroid strike wasn’t its idea. It would be extremely naïve, however, to assume that this problem isn’t much bigger than the Cambridge Analytica disaster.
Social media is vulnerable, and so are social media users, at this point in time. It’s fair to expect improvements, but the whole unavoidable social media culture is at ongoing risk. The recent WhatsApp hack, supposedly targeting human rights activists, is a very nasty reminder of how grim this situation can get.
Talking about “naïve” – It is nothing less than absurd to think that social media companies can instantly see, recognize, and respond adequately to new threats as they happen. There needs to be recognition of the level of risk to social media, as well as sane, workable regulations.
This hideous Cambridge Analytica thing may finally produce one good thing – A practical approach to online privacy and social media regulation. In my opinion, some decent result like that may actually repay some of the damage that “data abuse” did to the world.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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