Facebook fined record US$5 billion and Zuckerberg's power curtailed over privacy breaches

Facebook has been ordered to pay a hefty US$5 billion fine over privacy breaches and been informed that an independent privacy committee will be set up to remove the control of CEO Mark Zuckerberg from making user privacy decisions.

On Wednesday the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved the record settlement with Facebook over the company's privacy policies. It is the largest fine ever imposed by the FTC against a tech company since Google's US$22.5 million fine in 2012.

The FTC started investigating Facebook in March 2018 after reports that U.K political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed the data of around 87 million Facebook users. A previous agreement with Facebook required the company to give users clear notifications when their data was being shared with third parties.

"The magnitude of the penalty and sweeping conduct relief are unprecedented in the history of the FTC. The relief is designed not only to punish future violations but, more importantly, to change Facebook's entire privacy culture to decrease the likelihood of continued violations," said Joseph Simons in a statement, chairman of the FTC.

An independent privacy committee on Facebook's board of director will also be created to remove what it calls the “unfettered control” by Zuckerberg over user privacy decisions. The members of which will be nominated by an independent nominating committee and whose members can only be fired by a two-thirds vote by shareholders. Such a constitution would prevent Zuckerberg from controlling the vote with his own share power.

In a post on his personal account, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook had agreed to pay the fine yet added, "But even more importantly, we're making some major changes to how we build our services and run this company. This will require investing a significant amount of our engineering resources in building tools to review our products and the ways we use data."

Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission of the US has said it also intends to levy its own charges against Facebook for making misleading disclosures about the risk of misuse of user data. Facebook has agreed to pay US$100 million to settle the charges.