Facebook Faces a Big Penalty, but Regulators Are Split Over How Big

WASHINGTON — Facebook’s announcement in late April that it had set aside $3 billion to $5 billion to settle claims that it mishandled users’ personal data suggested a strong consensus by federal regulators that the social media giant needed to be held accountable.

But the reality behind the scenes at the Federal Trade Commission is far more complicated, reflecting the politics and give-and-take of the negotiations.

The F.T.C.’s five commissioners agreed months ago that they wanted to pursue a historic penalty that would show the agency’s teeth. But now, the members are split on the size and scope of the tech company’s punishment, according to three people with knowledge of the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The division is complicating the final days of the talks.

Along with disagreement about the appropriate financial penalty, one of the most contentious undercurrents throughout the negotiations has been the degree to which Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, should be held personally liable for any violation of a 2011 agreement, according to two of the people.

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