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Facebook Expects to Be Fined Up to $5 Billion by F.T.C. Over Privacy Issues

AN FRANCISCO — Facebook said on Wednesday that it expected to be fined up to $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations. The penalty would be a record by the agency against a technology company and a sign that the United States was willing to punish big tech companies.

The social network disclosed the amount in its quarterly financial results, saying it estimated a one-time charge of $3 billion to $5 billion in connection with an “ongoing inquiry” by the F.T.C. Facebook added that “the matter remains unresolved, and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome.”

Facebook has been in negotiations with the regulator for months over a financial penalty for claims that the company violated a 2011 privacy consent decree. That year, the social network promised a series of measures to protect its users’ privacy after an investigation found that its handling of data had harmed consumers.

The F.T.C. opened a new investigation last year after Facebook came under fire again. This time, the company was accused of not protecting its users’ data from being harvested without their consent by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm that was building voter profiles for the Trump campaign. Facebook also suffered a data breach that exposed the personal information of nearly 50 million users.

Levying a sizable fine on Facebook would go against the reputation of the United States of not restraining the power of big tech companies. For years, American regulators have faced criticism that they allowed Silicon Valley firms to grow unchecked, even as their European counterparts aggressively brought actions against tech companies — including fining Google a record $5.1 billion last year for abusing its power in the mobile phone market.

For the Trump administration, penalizing Facebook would be a defining action. Although President Trump has rolled back scores of business regulations, he and others in Washington — including Democrats — have coalesced around calling for greater scrutiny and enforcement of tech companies. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts and presidential candidate, has called for the breakup of Amazon, Google and Facebook. And Mr. Trump has sounded alarms over the dominance of the firms and their control over speech and the distribution of information.This is your last free article.Subscribe to The Times

It would also be a milestone for the F.T.C., whose biggest fine for a tech company was $22 million against Google in 2012 for misrepresenting how it used some online tracking tools. The agency, which is charged with overseeing deceptive and unfair business practices, is riding a wave of anti-tech sentiment as questions about how tech companies have contributed to misinformation, election meddling and data privacy problems have stacked up.

“The F.T.C. is really limited in what they can actually do in enforcing a consent decree, but in the case of Facebook, they had public pressure on their side,” said Justin Brookman, a former official for the regulator who is now a director of privacy at Consumers Union, nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

But some lawmakers said…

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