Speaking at the Digital - Life - Design conference in Munich, the Facebook COO reflected on a tough year for the ubiquitous social media platform.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on January 22, 2019

“At Facebook, these last few years have been difficult,” she said. “We need to stop abuse more quickly and we need to do better to protect people’s data. We have acknowledged our mistakes.”

“Speaking for Mark (Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO), for myself and for everyone at Facebook, we are more determined than ever to keep people safe. And we are taking strong actions to do it.”

Sandberg went on to outline five strategies Facebook is pursuing to repair its tattered image. These steps are said to include investing more in safety and security for users, enhancing protections against election interference, increasing transparency, aiming to ensure people feel like they control their own information and stepping up efforts to prohibit fake news and fake accounts.

Facebook also facing massive penalties for its failures to protect user privacy

Fake accounts have become a major headache for the social network, which is currently removing more than 1 million inauthentic accounts each day. Sandberg vowed to work with international governments, including conference host Germany, to help prevent these malicious accounts interfering in elections.

The company has also been subject to ongoing criticism over how much it shares with third party apps, though Sandberg said it has recently “dramatically cut down” on what information such apps can access.

Facebook executives have been criticised for not giving many specifics about their plans to rebuild trust in the platform but at her Munich address, Sandberg said the company now employs some 30,000 people to search the platform for hate speech and misinformation. This represents five times as many people as were doing this work in 2017.

Sandberg’s reassurances come as the company continues to be dogged by criticism and plateauing user growth as well as scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting. Its Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was grilled at congressional hearings in 2018 though he avoided questioning from international lawmakers.

The company may still face a “record fine” from the Federal Trade Commission after it breached an agreement the two parties struck back in 2012 to protect user privacy and security. The Washington Post suggested this fine would be “much larger” than the US$22.5 million penalty previously imposed on Facebook for privacy breaches.

Ongoing woes for Facebook

Sandberg also gave an interview to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung where she repeated many of the same talking points and emphasised that winning back the public’s trust would be a long-term process.

The COO’s talk and the newspaper interview were the latest instalments in what has been dubbed the ‘Facebook Apology Tour’ but they fell a long way short of assuaging all concerns about the company’s direction. Digital Strategist Daniel Fiene said the company had “missed a huge chance to regain trust” at the conference. Others said a question and answer session would have been more effective than Sandberg just reading a prepared speech.

After its share price declined significantly in 2018, Facebook now faces a difficult balancing act in that bolstering privacy for users has the potential to massively eat inot its profits. Per a 2017 SEC filing, “substantially all” of Facebook’s revenue comes from third party advertising on Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram. By using cookies to track Facebook users to third party sites, it gains commercially valuable data on what type of advertising will appeal to these users.

Despite these challenges, Sandberg insisted that Facebook was “far from done”. She also insisted that it remained a force for good and was one of the world’s largest job creation platforms.

Header image credit: World Economic Forum