Consider the Federal Trade Commission, which is the primary agency that regulates internet companies these days. The FTC doesn’t have the authority to demand civil penalties for most data breaches (there are exceptions for violations of children’s privacy and a few other offenses). Typically, the FTC can only impose penalties if a company has violated a previous agreement with the agency.
That means Facebook may well face a fine for the Cambridge Analytica breach, assuming the FTC can show that the social network violated the 2011 settlement. In that settlement, the FTC charged Facebook with eight counts of unfair and deceptive behavior, including allowing outside apps to access data that they didn’t need—which is what Cambridge Analytica reportedly did years later. The settlement carried no financial penalties but included a clause stating that Facebook could face fines of $16,000 per violation per day.
David Vladeck, the former FTC director of consumer protection, who crafted the 2011 settlement with Facebook, said he believes Facebook’s actions in the Cambridge Analytica episode violated the agreement on multiple counts. “I predict that if the FTC concludes that Facebook violated the consent decree, there will be a heavy civil penalty that could well be in the amount of $1 billion or more,” he said.