For Facebook and Google, huge fines will cause only limited harm

Regulators have slapped Facebook and Google with some very large fines recently, but are the penalties really hurting the hugely profitable titans of Silicon Valley?

The Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion as part of a settlement over allegations that the company violated a 2012 consent decree governing how it handles privacy on the platform.

That amount, which lawmakers, technologists and activists blasted as "chump change" for a company with $16.8 billion in second quarter revenue, is the largest fine ever levied by the FTC against any company.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, the FTC fine is equivalent to about 16 percent of the social network's 2018 operating expenses, meaning the daily cost of running the business. The tech giant reportedly held about $13.9 billion in cash and equivalents at the end of June, along with $34.7 billion in marketable securities.

Google and Facebook have both paid large fines to regulators recently.

Google and Facebook have both paid large fines to regulators recently. (Fox News)

Examined through that lens, the latest fine seems more manageable.

Other fines levied against Facebook, including by the Securities and Exchange Commission and a separate inquiry in the United Kingdom, have been much smaller.

The Menlo Park, Calif. company has emphasized in press statements since the FTC settlement that new controls regarding privacy accountability are much more significant in terms of its business practices than the $5 billion fine.

"These changes go beyond anything required under US law today," said CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a statement at the time of the FTC settlement. "The reason I support them is that I believe they will reduce the number of mistakes we make and help us deliver stronger privacy protections for everyone. As we build our privacy-focused vision for the future of social networking that I outlined earlier this year, it's critical we get this right."

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Earlier this year, European regulators imposed a $1.7 billion fine on Google over allegations the search engine prevented rivals' ads from displaying on some websites. That figure amounts to 1.5 percent of Google parent company Alphabet's 2018 operating expenses, or less than one week's worth, the Journal reports.

A separate, larger fine of $5 billion imposed by the EU's antitrust regulator in July of 2018, over the alleged abuse its Android operating system to promote its search engine, comes to just under 17 days' worth of operating expenses.

However, the onslaught from regulators shows no signs of abating, with bipartisan fury directed at Silicon Valley over antitrust concerns, hate speech and disinformation on the platform, privacy and the negative impact of technology on society.

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