Facebook’s Sandberg Admits ‘A Few’ Advertisers Have Paused Spending

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Social network is ‘systematically’ looking at how people’s data is used by others, and aims to be ‘more restrictive’

Facebook finished another week of bad publicity after its Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg talked about the changes it is implementing following the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal.

Earlier this week CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted he was still the right man to lead the company, and he apologised once again for the data sharing scandal, and admitted he had made mistakes.

Those comments came after Facebook estimated that 87 million people, mostly in the US, had been impacted, and not the 50 million previously reported.

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Adverting impact

But now it was the turn of Sandberg to face reporters, and she admitted to Bloomberg that a “a few” advertisers had paused their spending with Facebook as a result of the controversy.

Sandberg also acknowledged that Facebook had a long way to go to reassure wary customers.

“We’ve seen a few advertisers pause with us and they’re asking the same questions that other people are asking,” Sandberg said Thursday. “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.

It is worth remembering that Facebook makes nearly all its revenues and profit from advertising.

Political work

Sandberg said Facebook is creating stricter boundaries around its work with certain advertisers and political campaigns, as well.

The social networking has reportedly worked directly with governments that went on to use the social network against their people, and advertisers that ran anti-Muslim content.

Sandberg said that going forward Facebook will still aim to be “neutral” when assessing content – just more careful.

However Facebook will continue to work with political advertisers, she said.

“If you were using hate-based language in ads for elections, we’re drawing those lines much tighter and applying them uniformly,” she is quoted as saying.

GDPR commitment

The company will also apply new European user-privacy rules globally, Sandberg said, despite confusion earlier this week when Zuckerberg initially gave a vague answer to that question.

While the service may look different depending on the country, “the fundamental core principles of those settings and controls we are going to apply all over the world,” she said. “Whether or not laws are passed.”

During an interview with Bloomberg Television, Sandberg also took the blame for not ensuring that Facebook’s operations were staffed at the right level to protect users’ privacy.

“We also didn’t build our operations fast enough, and that’s on me,” Sandberg said, explaining that the company will have 20,000 people working on security by year’s end. “We are massively investing in smart technology. And we’re doing all of this to make sure we get to a place where we can proactively protect people’s data.”

Facebook is facing a number of official investigations around the world as a result of the data harvesting scandal, including the US FTC and the UK’s Information Commissioners Office.

This week has also seen the Australian privacy commissioner launch an investigation.

As the fallout from the scandal continues, Facebook has severed its partnership with a number of large data brokers, which help advertisers deliver targetted adverts on the social network.

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