Facebook may face a record-setting multi-billion-dollar fine from the FTC

The Washington Post is reporting that Facebook’s row with the FTC could result in fines an order of magnitude larger than any levied against a tech company by the regulatory body before. While the talks appear to be ongoing, The Washington Post spoke with two people familiar with the situation who said the FTC is negotiating with Facebook over a possible “multi-billion dollar fine” — an amount more in line with the FTC’s massive $14.7 billion settlement with Volkswagen over emissions cheating in 2016.

In 2012, Google paid a record-setting $22.5 million to settle with the FTC over its own privacy infractions, an amount that is hardly a drop in the bucket by today’s terms. As we’ve previously reported, an FTC fine around that range — or even a multiple of that amount — would be easily shrugged off by the company, which brought in more than $13 billion in revenues in just one quarter of last year. Hitting Facebook with fines well beyond the millions is one of the only ways to punish a company so wealthy that paying out millions would be little more than a passing annoyance.

When contacted about the state of talks with the FTC, Facebook repeated a prior statement on regulatory compliance. “We are cooperating with officials in the US, UK, and beyond,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues.”

Assuming the FTC holds its ground in negotiations over a record-blowing fine against Facebook, the company is likely to push back hard in court, putting its vast financial resources to the work of insulating it from meaningful penalties both in the present and future. Whether the multi-billion-dollar fine materializes or not, the hefty sum would be a major symbol of Facebook’s recent privacy transgressions and the process would likely hold Facebook to account with some transparency and reporting measures that could be bruising, even if it didn’t pay up.