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U.S. looking at ways to hold Zuckerberg accountable for Facebook's problems

Discussions at the Federal Trade Commission come more than a year into an investigation of Facebook's data-handling practices.
Image: Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg speaks to reporters in Paris in May 2018.Bertrand Guay / AFP - Getty Images file

Federal regulators are discussing whether and how to hold Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg personally accountable for the company's history of mismanaging users' private data, two sources familiar with the discussions told NBC News on Thursday.

The sources wouldn't elaborate on what measures are specifically under consideration. The Washington Post, which first reported the development, reported that regulators were exploring increased oversight of Zuckerberg's leadership.

While Facebook has come under scrutiny for its privacy practices for years, both of the Democratic members of the FTC have said the agency should target individual executives when appropriate.

Justin Brookman, a former policy director for technology research at the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, said Thursday night that while the FTC can name individual company leaders if they directed, controlled and knew about any wrongdoing, "they typically only use that authority in fraud-like cases, so far as I can tell."

The discussions come as the FTC is more than a year into an investigation of Facebook's data-handling practices.

A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment on the discussions, saying only, "We hope to reach an appropriate and fair resolution."

The FTC said in March of last year that it was investigating reports that the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica improperly gained access to the data of tens of millions of Facebook users, seven years after Facebook agreed to improve its privacy practices to settle a dispute with the FTC.

The company confirmed in July that it was under investigation not only by the FTC but also by the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Disclosures of Facebook's mishandling of user data have continued regularly since then, however. Most recently, the company said Wednesday night that it may have "unintentionally uploaded" the email contacts of as many as 1.5 million users who signed up for the service since May 2016.

Zuckerberg has been under pressure from regulators and lawmakers for what they've characterized as his insufficient action to back up the company's serial promises to do better.

NBC News reported this week that Zuckerberg oversaw plans to treat users' data as a bargaining chip with partner companies, according to thousands of pages of company documents spanning 2011 to 2015.