Facebook’s COO defends targeted ads

On the defensive after weeks of scrutiny over data mismanagement, the social media company is sending out Sheryl Sandberg to rebut claims that its business model is invasive and untenable.

Facebook has asked COO Sheryl Sandberg to lean in a little farther.

As the company tries to reassure customers and advertisers that it is handling data responsibly and can continue to provide high-quality marketing services, it has turned to individuals to carry its message in one-on-one interviews.

After remaining silent in the early days of the Cambridge Analytica crisis, the company sent founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to apologize and promise to make changes in its first round of statements. As the story endures in the news, Facebook has mounted a second campaign.

This time, it has sent Sheryl Sandberg to defend Facebook’s business model.

In her interview with NPR, Sandberg argued that ad retargeting is good for small business.

NPR reported:

“One of the questions you might ask about the business models—why use data at all for ads? Why don’t we just show everyone in the U.S. the same ads? Then we could do it without any data […] I think it’s really important for your listeners to understand, which is that, that’s why small businesses can participate in this. That if you just do big ads they go to everyone, only large advertisers can participate.

We have 6 million customers around the world—a lot in the U.S. Forty-two percent of the small businesses on Facebook in the U.S. are hiring because they’re growing on Facebook. And that’s creating the majority, small businesses create the majority of the job growth on Facebook. So the targeting—which we do in a privacy-safe way—is a big chunk of why small businesses are growing, and that’s why we think it’s so important. We can do it, and protect your privacy, but it’s part of what’s making small business—and our economy—grow.”

Sandberg said that without user data, Facebook would no longer be a free service, and she doubled down on the promise that the company does not sell user information.

NPR continued:

“Our content’s available to anyone for free because it’s ad-supported. And that we feel really proud of, and we’re really—we think it’s really important. We’re trying to connect the whole world. Two billion people use our service; a lot of them would not be able to if they had to pay for the content itself.

And privacy and ads are not at odds. It’s a good opportunity to remind everyone what we say all the time, but we need to keep saying so people understand it—which is that we don’t sell data, period, and we don’t give any advertisers your personal information.”

Sandberg also took responsibility for the data breach that may have affected up to 87 million users.

CNBC reported:

“I feel deeply personally responsible, because a lot of mistakes were made,” Sandberg said in an interview with Bloomberg.

“What we didn’t do until recently and what we are doing now is just take a broader view looking to be more restrictive in ways data could be misused. We also didn’t build our operations fast enough — and that’s on me,” she added.

When asked whether Facebook had gotten too powerful, she didn’t scoff or demur.

“It’s an important question—and people have that question about us and others, particularly as our size and scope,” she told NPR. “We’re having conversations with regulators around the world, but we’re not even waiting for regulation.”

Facebook’s leaders have previously said they were open to regulation, but Sandberg’s statements are the most specific yet.

“The most likely regulation in the United States right now is the Honest Ads Act—which may or may not pass,” Sandberg continued. “We’re not waiting for it. We built a tool that shows every ad that any page is running on Facebook. It’s live in Canada. It will be live in the U.S. before the election.”

When pressed on whether Facebook was worried about fines from the Federal Trade Commission, Sandberg steered the interview toward a different issue: fake news.

“Just this week we announced that we’ve taken down another 270 pages and accounts,” Sandberg asserted. “[…] We’re not going show in Russia, we’re going to show the U.S.—and we’re looking for others. That was something we didn’t understand then, but we are focused on finding now.”

Sandberg also emphasized that third parties would be fact-checking stories.

“We have a partnership now with the AP [Associated Press] set up in all 50 states where we can quickly respond when something looks like it might be false,” she said. “When something—we either find it, which is new, we’re doing it proactively—looks false, or someone reports something to us as false, we’re relying on third-party fact-checkers.”

The interviews with Sandberg might be an attempt to reassure advertisers who are wary of the platform. Sandberg admitted that some advertisers have put their Facebook relationship on hold.

Fortune wrote:

“We’ve seen a few advertisers pause with us and they’re asking the same questions that other people are asking,” Sandberg said Thursday in an interview at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. “They want to make sure they can use data and use it safely.”

Sandberg said she is having “reassuring conversations with advertisers, just as we are with people,” about how Facebook has built privacy into its system. The company makes almost all its revenue and profit from advertising.

The attempt to salvage advertiser relationship comes amid Facebook’s new privacy settings, which are shutting down access to some consumer data.

Some app developers are complaining about the loss of data.

Business Insider wrote:

The apps relied on accessing certain information about users through the Instagram API, the software infrastructure that allows outside apps to plug into Instagram’s data and access information such as their name and the pictures they posted. [Developer Stef Lewandowski] said the data [from his app Makelight] was only ever used to analyse colours in people’s pictures, and never for anything else.

Now he’ll have to come up with a workaround. “Today a bunch of the endpoints we rely on to run those services are now immediately unavailable and won’t be coming back,” he explained.

Facebook is removing access to data from several other services to prevent future abuses. In a post on its newsroom, Facebook announced it would restrict API access to Events, Pages, Groups, Facebook Login, and other features.

Some were not impressed with Sandberg’s statements:

Others didn’t appreciate Sandberg’s message that without user data, Facebook would have to become a paid service.

Others weren’t buying Sandberg’s promise to learn from the mistake:

What do you think of Sandberg’s explanations?

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