The news that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg could have been aware of his company’s questionable privacy practices but failed to refer them to federal agencies did not go over well with investors, with Facebook shares tumbling 2 percent on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the WSJ said that Facebook had unearthed internal e-mails dating back to 2012, which “appear to show Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg's connection to potentially problematic privacy practices at the company".
The emails appear to indicate that Facebook was not aggressive enough in addressing the issues when it discovered that a third-party app was harvesting users' information regardless of their privacy settings.
The Journal’s reporters apparently didn’t see the emails and learned about them due to unnamed sources "close to the situation"; nor was it clear what communications federal regulators have requested and how many of them concern Zuckerberg.
The emails were uncovered as part of the ongoing investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into Facebook’s alleged privacy violations, which led to the transfer of the personal data of 87 million users to the now-defunct political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and on the Brexit vote.
In 2011, after the US regulator found that Facebook deceived its users by telling them that “they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public”, the company promised to safeguard users’ privacy.
In particular, Facebook was required to inform users if their data was being shared with third parties.
If the social media giant is found to have violated this deal in regards to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it may face massive fines (up to $40,000 for each violation per day since 2011).
But Facebook pushed back the allegations, saying that Zuckerberg had not violated his promises about privacy.
"Facebook and its executives, including Mark, at all times strive to comply with all applicable law,” said a company spokesperson.
“At no point did Mark or any other Facebook employee knowingly violate the company's obligations under the FTC consent order.”
Some US lawmakers have criticised the potential settlement, saying that a $5 billion penalty would be a “bargain” for Facebook.
In a letter to the FTC in May, Senators Richard Blumethal and Josh Hawley urged the commission to “consider setting rules of the road on what Facebook can do with consumers’ private information, such as requiring the deletion of tracking data, restricting the collection of certain types of information, curbing advertising practices, and imposing a firewall on sharing private data between different products”.