Blowing Up Settlements

The one being sabotaged here is between Facebook and the FTC over the FTC’s proposed settlement of Facebook’s “mishandling” of consumer privacy data, including surrendering millions of consumers’ personal information to Cambridge Analytica.

FTC Chairman Joseph Simons has the (Republican) votes he need to impose the settlement, from the FTC’s perspective, on a 3-2 partisan vote.  He’s quite rightly trying to get at least one of the Progressive-Democrats on the board to vote with him, but they’re bleating that a $5 billion fine and other controls don’t go far enough.

This is naked obstruction, though, based on a cynically manufactured beef.

Another impediment to the settlement is a textbook example of why Federal agencies ought not be spring-loaded to settle cases with miscreants.  “Settlements,” should be vanishingly rare, and they should occur only after the teeth from a history of court cases have been manifested.  This time, the block is whether

to name Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a respondent in the complaint that would be filed by the agency as part of the settlement. Naming Mr Zuckerberg as a respondent could make him liable for future privacy missteps—and give the FTC leverage if it should seek to remove Mr Zuckerberg from the company’s management in the future.

Whichever party wants this included, it’s an entirely legitimate inclusion.

“Facebook representatives,” though, object, and they say Facebook will not accept a settlement that includes this.

There’s nothing here for Facebook to accept or reject, though. Facebook screwed up with consumers’ private, personal information, and the screwups identified in this putative settlement are just the latest in a long string of such…errors.  That those prior misbehaviors are not part of this case does matter in determining the price to be paid in this instance, but they should inform the FTC’s willingness to go to court rather than itself settle for a settlement.

There should be no settlement on the table or on offer in any guise.  The case should be in the courts, moving apace—the FTC should not allow Facebook’s lawyers to drag things out, and neither should the courts—with a court judgment sought. That judgment should include, at minimum, a company fine of $5 billion or more, Zuckerberg named as correspondent, and Zuckerberg personally fined for his role as the MFWIC condoning, if not actively authorizing, such privacy invasions and sales.

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