Internal emails that reportedly connect Zuckerberg to potentially problematic privacy practices have some people at the tech giant concerned about the implications for an ongoing Federal Trade Commission investigation, sources familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.
The social network, which has been hit with a bipartisan onslaught of criticism about data security, content moderation and more over the last few years, disputed the notion that Zuckerberg's email exchanges violated the 2012 consent decree — in which the social network agreed to improve its privacy protocols.
"We have fully cooperated with the FTC's investigation to date and provided tens of thousands of documents, emails and files. 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," a Facebook spokesperson told Fox News via email on Friday.
The FTC, which has been blasted by some for seeming to drag its feet during the year-long probe of Facebook's privacy practices, could hit the tech giant with a fine of up to $5 billion and make it abide by new, more stringent privacy rules. Since the tech giant reported over $15 billion in revenue for the first quarter, the possible FTC fine won't break the bank.
However, It's unclear exactly how many emails the FTC has requested, and The Wall Street Journal did not directly review the internal emails sent by Zuckerberg.
The emails brought a new round of accusations from lawmakers and critics of Facebook as the backlash that has roiled Silicon Valley over the last few years shows no signs of abating.
"Mark Zuckerberg himself willfully disregarded the FTC’s order to protect privacy," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in a tweet following the Journal's report. "Facebook’s record of failed leadership & neglect is overwhelming. FTC must move swiftly to hold Zuckerberg directly accountable for Facebook’s neglect & misuse of data."
Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, has faced a series of crises over the last few years from the vast social media campaign waged by Russia against the U.S. to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, calls for an executive leadership shakeup and the tech giant's handling of hate speech, civil rights issues and abuse.
Freedom from Facebook, an activist group that has called for the social network to be broken up, slammed the company in response to the latest report.
"The FTC must enforce real consequences on the tech giant, including holding Mark Zuckerberg personally liable and breaking up their monopoly. It is painfully clear that a fine-- no matter how historically 'big' -- will not cut it," Sarah Miller, co-chair of Freedom From Facebook, told Fox News in a statement via email
The Electronic Information Privacy Center joined a coalition of groups in January calling on the FTC to impose "substantial fines, structural remedies, compliance with Fair Information Practices, reformed hiring and management practices and restored democratic governance" at Facebook.
"This is another example of why it’s so important for us to question Mark Zuckerberg at the @CommonsCMS (and most probably why he is so reluctant to appear)," Damien Collins, a British lawmaker who is chair of the Digital, Culture, Sports Select Committee, said on Twitter in response to the Journal's report
Last year, Zuckerberg admitted the company made a mistake in not focusing on privacy much earlier and laid out a vision for privacy and encrypted communication focus for the powerful social network.