Wyden says the FTC fine was laughable, pointing to the company’s stock price, which didn’t see a real fluctuation. (When Facebook announced that it expected to pay anywhere between $3 and $5 billion this spring, the price actually went up .)“Major financial players—Wall Street—basically said, ‘Piece of cake for Mr. Zuckerberg. Nothing to worry about here.’ Business as usual,” Wyden, the top Democrat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, said.
“Millions of Americans entrusted personal information to Facebook with the understanding that Facebook would respect the laws governing consumer privacy, but Facebook’s many privacy missteps made clear that it lacked a culture of compliance in this area,” FTC commissioner Christine Wilson said at a press conference announcing the settlement Wednesday.
The Mind Your Own Business Act seeks to change that calculus by threatening prison terms of up to 20 years for senior executives who lie to the FTC about how their companies use personal data, among other penalties.
While the legislation goes beyond just Facebook, the company continues to be the talk of Capitol Hill, and not only because of Zuckerberg’s high-profile testimony. Facebook is now on an all-out blitz in Washington. The company spent a record $12.6 million on lobbying in 2018, and it dropped $12.3 million in just the first nine months of this year to employ a cadre of 60 lobbyists across the federal government.Zuckerberg himself has also gotten more intricately involved in the reputation-management business. Before last week’s testimony, he gave a big speech at Georgetown University , and he’s also been meeting one on one with many senators recently. Not all lawmakers are impressed.
Alex Edelman/Alamy If there’s one choice that Facebook has made repeatedly over the past 15 years, it’s been to prioritize growth over privacy. The company’s loose policies on data collection over the years are also what allowed it to build one of the most successful advertising businesses in history.
“I'd be much more interested in seeing him put in place stuff that would really change the underlying, you know, problem,” Wyden said. “The underlying problem is that he has repeatedly lied to the public. Repeatedly lied to the public about his privacy policies.”
Many lawmakers are still reviewing Wyden’s new legislation, which is based on a draft the senator began circulating last year . Despite numerous calls for a federal privacy bill, no proposals so far have gained enough traction to move beyond closed-door discussions amongst top lawmakers. And some lawmakers have already expressed concerns with Wyden’s bill.
“I don’t know why one industry would face higher consequences than another,” senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) told WIRED. “I don’t even know if that’s constitutional.”
But the bill is turning heads for threatening tech executives with prison terms, an approach that even has bipartisan support.“I think it’s a good idea,” senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) told WIRED. The freshman senator has been an aggressive critic of Silicon Valley since he arrived on the Hill, and has introduced a few bills of his own targeting big tech.
“Deterrence depends on strong and effective penalties and rigorous enforcement. In some spheres of responsibility only prison time can prove an effective deterrent,” senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) told WIRED.