By Spencer Feingold
Internal Facebook emails that were uncovered as part of the ongoing federal probe into the platform’s privacy violations appear to show that CEO Mark Zuckerberg was aware of the dubious practices, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday citing anonymous sources.
The emails were provided to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as part of the agency’s investigation into Facebook’s compliance with a 2012 consent decree, which mandated certain privacy regulations.
“This shows that the executives — all the way at the very top — were not being fully forthcoming with regulators as they tried to negotiate exactly what the practices were that they were going to adhere to,” Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard professor and the former special master in the 1991 Microsoft antitrust lawsuit, told Cheddar.
In the emails, Zuckerberg and other executives reportedly debated how to comply with the oversight and did not focus on making adherence a priority, according to the report.
The FTC began its probe to determine whether the Facebook ($FB) data breach in the 2016 Cambridge Analytica scandal violated the 2012 decree. The scandal resulted in consumer’s personal data on social media platform illicitly being shared with the consulting firm that worked for the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump.
“At no point did Mark or any other Facebook employee knowingly violate the company’s obligations under the FTC consent order, nor do any emails exist that indicate they did,” Facebook said in a statement to The Journal.
The report notes, however, that the emails could interfere in Facebook’s settlement negotiations with the government — the company has already reportedly set aside $3 billion to cover expected fines from the FTC.
The disclosure also has the potential to be damning in the court of public opinion, which has increasingly soured towards tech giants in recent years.
“These companies need to wake up and smell the coffee,” Lessig told Cheddar. “The message that is coming through loud and clear is that nobody is happy with this technical infrastructure that makes us constantly vulnerable, both as individuals and as a democracy.”
Moreover, Lessig added that Facebook's inherent business model of collecting and selling data puts it in “constant conflict” with the notion of privacy as understood by regulators and consumers.
The negative sentiment is also prevalent in Washington where lawmakers are increasing the government’s scrutiny on big tech. Just last week, the U.S. Justice Department agreed to handle antitrust inquiries into Apple ($AAPL) and Google ($GOOGL) while the FTC said it will provide oversight on Facebook and Amazon ($AMZN).
“The business model that says ‘we're just going to swallow the people who threaten us most’ is not going to be the future,” Lessig said.