SAN FRANCISCO: After keeping herself largely out of the limelight since Facebook has been engulfed in a data privacy scandal, Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, has conducted a series of media interviews to admit to mistakes.
She gave a round of interviews last Thursday to Bloomberg, CNBC, the Financial Times, NBC News and PBS in which she acknowledged Facebook had been too slow to respond after reports of a huge data leak to Cambridge Analytica, a firm that worked for the Trump presidential campaign.
She told the Financial Times that Facebook still does not know exactly what happened to the data obtained by Cambridge Analytica because it can’t conduct its own investigation until the UK information commissioner completes its inquiry.
But she accepted that Facebook had “underinvested” in security on its platforms and is now working to rectify the situation with a series of privacy updates.
“We made mistakes and I own them and they are on me,” she said. “There are operational things that we need to change in this company and we are changing them … We have to learn from our mistakes and we need to take action.”
She added that “we are comprehensively looking at how Facebook data will be used” and also confirmed that the European Union’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation will be rolled out to all users, not just those in Europe.
That helped to clear up a Reuters interview with CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week in which it was suggested that he had not committed himself to extending similar protections to the GDPR globally.
Elsewhere, in an interview with Bloomberg, she said for the first time that some advertisers have curtailed their spending, although she added that she is having “reassuring conversations” with them.
“We’ve seen a few advertisers pause with us and they’re asking the same questions that other people are asking. They want to make sure they can use data and use it safely,” she said.
However, probably the most eye-catching interview was with “Today” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie of NBC News, during which she revealed that Facebook relies on data-driven advertising to such an extent that if users wanted to opt out, then they would have to pay for it.
Sandberg insisted that Facebook does not sell or give away its users’ information to advertisers, but conceded that “our service depends on your data”.
Asked if there could ever be a way for people to opt out of ad targeting, she said: “We don’t have an opt-out at the highest level. That would be a paid product.”
Meanwhile, CNBC reported that Facebook had asked several major US hospitals to share anonymised data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription information, for a proposed research project.
The report added, however, that the proposal never went beyond the planning phase and has been put on hold since the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged.
Sourced from Financial Times, Reuters, Bloomberg, NBC News, CNBC; additional content by WARC staff