Facebook’s fine for mishandling the data of 87 million people is worth 15 minutes of its profit

The fine is worth 0.0008% of Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth.
The fine is worth 0.0008% of Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth.
Image: Reuters/Charles Platiau
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The UK’s data privacy watchdog didn’t mince words about Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal: The social media giant “contravened the law by failing to safeguard” the information of 87 million people, it said. As a result, the company is facing the maximum fine the regulator can impose.

But that’s much more of a poke than a whack: Facebook must pay a piddling £500,000 ($662,000), the most severe penalty allowed under the rules that prevailed at the time of the alleged wrongdoing. The EU’s much stricter General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect earlier this year, does not apply to Facebook’s case. And good thing for Mark Zuckerberg and company: The maximum fine under GDPR is 4% of global revenue, which would be worth nearly $2 billion for Facebook.

But as it is, Facebook’s UK fine is barely a rounding error—or put another way, it’s…

15 minutes of net profit

Analysts expect Facebook to make $22.6 billion in profit this year, according to FactSet. That’s around $43,000 per minute. It therefore will take the firm just over 15 minutes to make the money necessary to pay the fine.

0.0008% of Zuckerberg’s net worth

The Bloomberg Billionaires Index pegs the Facebook CEO’s net worth at a whopping $81.6 billion, largely thanks to shares in the company he founded. He could take personal responsibility for paying the fine by forgoing 0.0008% of his net worth.

3% of Sheryl Sandberg’s annual compensation

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s total compensation was worth $25.2 million in 2017—including $21.1 million in Facebook stock and the $2.7 million spent on personal security. She runs Facebook’s operations and oversees its advertising business, so perhaps she might feel inclined to divert the 3% of her pay package that it would take to pay the fine.

A fifth of its quarterly federal lobbying budget

Facebook spent more money lobbying the US federal government in the first quarter of this year than it ever has before: $3.3 million. Facebook could spend 20% of what it devotes to influencing American lawmakers and instead fork over the cash to the UK.

A fraction of a cent for each of the 87 million users affected

In the words of the UK data regulator, Facebook “failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others.” But what about all those millions of users who failed to read all the terms and conditions of the data-harvesting quizzes they took on the site? If they shared in the blame for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, they could pitch in a small amount to pay Facebook’s fine. After all, they’d each only have to pay $0.008, or around three-quarters of a cent.