The Industry

How Much Facebook Has to Pay in Fines and Settlements This Year

The latest is a $40 million settlement with ad agencies. The smallest is a $47 fine from Russia.

Facebook incurred a record-setting $5 billion fine from the FTC. Image: Mark Zuckerberg waves as he walks onstage.
Facebook incurred a record-setting $5 billion fine from the FTC. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On Friday, Facebook agreed to pay a $40 million settlement to resolve a class-action lawsuit brought by several advertising agencies that alleged the company had wildly misrepresented the average time its users spend watching videos on the platform. This is just the latest financial penalty to hit the social media giant, which has faced a barrage of fines and lawsuits this year. Each individual payout is more or less chump change for a company expected to make more than $69 billion in 2019, a haul for which even the record-breaking $5 billion fine that the Federal Trade Commission levied against the company is barely a dent. Still, the number of payouts is striking.

Here is an index of every fine and settlement the company has faced in 2019 (at least that I could find—if I missed one, email me). The list includes penalties that the company has tentatively agreed to pay, as well as those that the company is challenging or has yet to acknowledge, so the running total may change as the situation around each settlement and fine develops—and if Facebook racks up any more penalties before the year is over.

• In January, Facebook agreed to donate $3.9 million to a scam ads prevention charity so British journalist Martin Lewis would drop a lawsuit alleging that the platform had allowed advertisers to use his face to promote fraudulent financial products. Amount: $3.9 million

• In March, Facebook agreed to pay $5 million to settle five lawsuits from civil rights and labor organizations, which alleged that the company had allowed housing, employment, and credit advertisers to discriminate against users based on their age, gender, and race. Amount: $5 million

• In April, a court in Russia fined Facebook $47—yes, $47—for allegedly violating a law dictating that data on Russian users must be stored on servers located within the country. RT, a news outlet that the Russian government uses to disseminate propaganda, reported that Facebook missed the deadline to pay the fine, which would be approximately 0.00000007 percent of its expected revenues in 2019. Amount: $47

• In May, Turkey’s data protection authority fined Facebook $270,000 for allegedly failing to quickly address a software bug that exposed nonpublic photos belonging to $6.8 million users. Amount: $270,000

• In June, Italy’s data protection watchdog imposed a $1.1 million fine on Facebook. The regulator alleged that 57 Italian users had downloaded the Thisisyourdigitallife app at the center of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which its developer used to vacuum up data from 87 million profiles without consent. Facebook claimed that the Cambridge Analytica political consulting firm did not obtain any data from Italian users, and that it would review the fine. It is unclear whether the company ultimately agreed to pay. Amount: $1.1 million

• In July, German regulators fined Facebook $2.3 million for allegedly underreporting the number of complaints concerning illegal hate speech on the platform. Facebook vowed to appeal the fine later that month, arguing that its reporting was accurate and that Germany’s hate speech law was unclear, but indicated some willingness to eventually pay up. Amount: $2.3 million

• In July, Facebook agreed to pay a $5 billion settlement as part of an Federal Trade Commission investigation into the company that was sparked by the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018. The commission found that the company was responsible for a range of privacy missteps that violated the consent decree it signed with the agency in 2012. The $5 billion was more 200 times larger than the second-largest fine that the FTC has ever imposed, yet critics argued that the commission still did not go far enough. Facebook did not deny the allegations but also did not admit to any culpability. Amount: $5 billion

• In July, the Securities and Exchange Commission also imposed a separate $100 million fine on Facebook for issuing misleading statements in connection to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, including initially giving off the false impression that the company had not found any evidence of misconduct. Facebook did not admit to any wrongdoing in the matter. Amount: $100 million

• In July, a superior court judge in San Francisco fined Facebook and Twitter $1,000 each for refusing to provide posts that may have helped defense lawyers in a criminal trial. It is unclear whether Facebook ultimately paid the fine. Amount: $1,000

• In October, authorities in Turkey demanded that Facebook pay $280,000 for failing to prevent a data breach that exposed the personal info of 280,959 users in the country. It is unclear whether Facebook will ultimately pay the fine. Amount: $282,000

• In October, a group of advertising agencies announced that Facebook had agreed to pay $40 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that the company had inflated viewership metrics, which skewed decisions for purchasing ad time on the platform. Despite the settlement, Facebook maintains that the suit is “without merit.” Amount: $40 million

If Facebook agrees to pay all these fines and settlements, which is far from likely, it would ultimately have to shell out around $5,152,853,047. That’s roughly 7 percent of its $69 billion in expected earnings for 2019. It might seem trifling that Facebook has challenged so many of the penalties—it’s some cases, it’s likely on principal, while in others the company may fear that if it acquiesces to a fine or settlement, it will lead other countries or plaintiffs to pursue similar complaints. Even a $47 fine can cost a lot more.