Facebook still owes the U.S. government $5 billion.
The social media giant has yet to make good on its debt to the American people following a record fine levied by the Federal Trade Commission in July. While the specifics of the settlement are still being challenged, it’s worth asking what happens next with all that money — assuming this all eventually gets worked out.
I mean, it’s not like Mark Zuckerberg can just walk one of those giant novelty-sized checks over to the the While House. However, don’t think for a second that the exact manner and timing of the payment hasn’t been precisely dialed in.
The fine, lest you forget, followed an FTC investigation kicked off by the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. The government determined that Facebook violated a 2011 settlement with the FTC that also dealt with issues of consumer privacy — specifically, the issue that Facebook deceived its users in regard to what it did with their data.
So yeah, Facebook is kind of a repeat offender here. A repeat offender, it’s worth adding, that still hasn’t paid up. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the settlement has yet to be finalized over concerns that it’s too generous to Facebook.
And yes, you read that correctly. Too generous to Facebook.
Critics of the deal, notes the Journal, insist that it indemnifies Facebook against all kinds of past wrongdoing — including stuff that we may not presently know about. In other words, it gives the corporate behemoth a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card should past transgressions come to light.
“The proposed release is so vague,” wrote Electronic Privacy Information Center president Marc Rotenberg in a court filing picked up by the Journal, “and the scope of immunity Facebook would gain is so indeterminately broad, that the Court should reject it as procedurally unfair.”
Facebook and the government have until Jan. 24 to respond to this accusation. But should the presiding judge OK the settlement, then Facebook will have to move fast. It won’t have much time to transfer that $5 billion.
In fact, according to the initial court order, Facebook will only have seven days to pay the fine.
“Defendant is ordered to pay to Plaintiff, by making payment to the Treasurer of the United States, FIVE BILLION dollars ($5,000,000,000.00), which, as Defendant stipulates, its undersigned counsel holds in escrow for no purpose other than payment to Plaintiff,” reads the order. “Such payment must be made within 7 days of entry of this Stipulated Order by electronic fund transfer in accordance with instructions specified by a representative of Plaintiff.”
And if Facebook slow walks handing over the cash? Say hello to some serious interest payments.
“In the event of any default in payment,” continues the order, “the entire unpaid amount, together with interest, as computed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1961 from the date of default to the date of payment, shall immediately become due and payable.”
That the U.S. Treasury will be on the receiving end of this settlement is par for the course. According to FTC spokesperson Juliana Gruenwald Henderson, “[all] civil penalties paid to the FTC including this one go to the U.S. Treasury.”
Henderson unfortunately did not answer our question as to whether this money would go into a general fund, or be earmarked for anything specific. But hey, maybe that’s putting the cart before the horse — Facebook, after all, needs to pay the damn thing first.