Sir Nick Clegg claims Facebook will change after £4bn fine

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Sir Nick Clegg has said Facebook’s settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would spark a change “deep into the bowels of the company” over how it handles personal data.

The former deputy prime minister is now the social network’s vice president of global affairs and communications and said new privacy provisions being introduced to the firm’s operations were a “belt and braces” change.

On Wednesday, the FTC announced it had agreed a settlement with the social media giant which would see it pay a £4 billion fine and introduce a number of new audits into its business that would ensure privacy and data protection were in place.

It came following an investigation sparked by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Nick said: “This is a – as the name suggests – settlement between the regulator, the Federal Trade Commission and the company.

“Legally speaking the company doesn’t admit culpability but it settles, and it settles in return for a very large penalty – the largest fine in the FTC’s history, certainly for these kinds of issues – and a complete overhaul, deep into the bowels of the company itself in how data is handled, how it is documented, how privacy is protected and then profound governance changes.

“So a new committee on the board of the company, requirements on (chief executive) Mark Zuckerberg every 12 weeks to certify that these privacy provisions are being properly respected. So it’s a belt and braces change.”

The former Liberal Democrat leader also acknowledged that the company had failed to adequately protect user data in the past.

“I think it’s fair to say that the company didn’t do enough in the past, it’s not I think fair to say that the company did nothing,” he said.

“Quite a lot of new measures have been introduced in recent years to keep data safe and to try and protect people’s privacy but clearly not enough, particularly in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations.

“There’s a real and obvious need to make sure that new rules are in place and that is exactly what is at the heart of this settlement.”

Mark Zuckerberg
Sir Nick said Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg would be required every 12 weeks to certify that privacy provisions are being respected (Niall Carson/PA)

There has been some criticism of the size of the fine from the FTC, despite it being one of the largest ever handed out by the US regulator, and critics can point to Facebook’s latest financial results, released on Wednesday night, which showed the company’s net income for the last three months was more than 2.6 billion dollars (£2 billion).

But Sir Nick dismissed suggestions the company should have faced greater financial punishment.

“It’s not a tiny fine compared to the fines that the FTC has imposed upon other companies in the past,” he said.

“Look, I totally accept that you could double, triple, quadruple the fine and I suspect people would still say it is not enough.

“Not only do I totally accept that no one is necessarily just going to think that the fine is enough and everything can carry on as before and that is absolutely not what this settlement involves.

“It goes well beyond the fine. More than that, I don’t think people just simply are going to take the assurances from Facebook that all will be well in the future, at face value. I don’t think words are enough.”

The Facebook executive also argued that the company was changing its culture and had been doing so “well before” the FTC settlement, and again called for increased regulation of technology companies and governments and other bodies.

He said that decisions about data handling and competition in the technology sector should not be left to private companies.

“There’s a really legitimate debate to be had about whether data-intensive companies like Facebook should or shouldn’t share or allow other developers to use data,” he said.

“I think Facebook has learnt the very hard way that if you allow that data to be accessed by developers or academics in a way which is not properly controlled then people’s privacy can be abused. That is what is at the heart of this.”

The US Department of Justice has also recently announced the launch of an antitrust investigation into companies such as Facebook over concerns their dominance has harmed innovation.

“I think it’s right that regulators should look – as the Department of Justice announced yesterday – in and around the sector as a whole, not just Facebook,” Sir Nick added.

“We believe that if you look at the kind of things that people use Facebook for, there are lots and lots of alternatives. If you want to share videos or if you want to message someone or if you want to share films, you can do that with lots of other apps. But at the end of the day, it will be for regulators and decision-makers to make those kinds of judgments themselves.”

Chris Price
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