By Whitney Webb
Facebook’s chief operations officer, Sheryl Sandberg, recently sold $23 million in the company’s stock on Wednesday as governments in the EU move to quickly implement new online privacy laws that would significantly limit the social network’s advertising practices and thus its income.
Sandberg is arguably one of the most powerful and influential women in technology. As Mark Zuckerberg’s COO and the head of the company’s advertising operations, she has been recently blasted by experts for her role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. She has since profusely apologized once news of her involvement was made public. However, despite usually being comfortable in the spotlight, Sandberg has retreated from center stage amid the legal probes Facebook is currently facing, resulting in Mark Zuckerberg’s solo appearance before Congress last week.
In a string of appearances scheduled before the congressional hearings, Sandberg— the social media site’s 2nd in command— affirmed that Facebook’s main source of income comes from advertising. In other words, collecting data of its users is how and why the service remains free.
”The service [Facebook],” Sandberg reminded the public in an interview last Friday, “depends on your data.” Completely opting out of data-based targeted ads, she asserted, would have to be a paid option.
Experts have been quick to analyze and point out the aggressiveness of Facebook’s data collection practices, especially surrounding shadow profiles, which can collect data on users even if they don’t have an account with the social network. Before Congress, Mark Zuckerberg flatly denied any knowledge of the shadow profiles, even though the practice has been well-known since 2013 when the company’s data collection on non-users was revealed during a similar data-mishandling ordeal.
Regarding the responsibility of the current misuse of data and future regulation regarding people’s privacy, Sandberg has been almost overly apologetic. However, it is still unclear what steps the company has taken since the story first broke in March.
“We know that we did not do enough to protect people’s data. I’m really sorry for that,” she’s said. In a separate instance she apologized yet again saying, “This was a huge breach of trust. People come to Facebook everyday and they depend on us to protect their data, and I am so sorry that we let so many people down.” She couldn’t promise that data was complete safe for now, adding that “We are going to find other things” and “there will always be bad actors.”
Sandberg would not comment about if anyone had lost their jobs at Facebook because of the scandal, saying that “We don’t talk about this publicly and we’re not going to; we don’t think it’s the right thing to do.” Hired in 2008, the former Google advertising chief joined the social network precisely to consolidate the company’s ad-based business model. Facebook’s then 20-something Mark Zuckerberg, who was reclusive and struggling with investors, brought Sandberg on to be the mature face of the company.
Analysts are still in disagreement over the immediate financial future of Facebook, whose stock price took a sharp dip after the harrowing news about personal data leaks. On Wednesday, Sandberg sold 163,500 shares of Facebook stock for a total value of just over $23,000,000. Over the course of 2017, Sandberg sold $316 million worth of shares, with over half that amount being sold in the first half of the year, according to CNBC. Sandberg has sold shares on a consistent basis over the past several years, yet the future of the company remains uncertain in light of dramatic changes and controversies.
A report from CNBC on April 10 highlighted a claim from Brian Wieser, a senior research analyst at Pivotal Research Group, that predicted a role shift for either Sandberg or Zuckerberg. “The company is not well managed,” said Wieser, also claiming that “one of Zuckerberg or Sandberg will not be in the same jobs in 12 months time.”
Most recently, Facebook has seen a modest uptick in active users, as it was reported April 25 that “Facebook’s daily active users in North America rose slightly last quarter to 185 million, a sign that the company’s News Feed algorithm tweaks and data privacy issues may not have deterred consumers.” This news may signal that the public is relenting to Facebook’s conduct; however, it may be worthy for these users to note that Facebook has declined an invitation to offer testimony at the upcoming “Examining Social Media Filtering Practices and their Effect on Free Speech” House of Representatives hearing that will discuss “what metrics social media platforms use to moderate content, how filtering decisions are made, and whether viewpoints have been silenced on some of the most popular and widely used platforms.”