Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg says breaking up tech firms won't fix 'issues people are concerned about'


Sheryl Sandberg has pushed back on claims that Facebook should be broken up in the wake of a string of scandals.

Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said in an interview with CNBC that doing so wouldn’t address any of the issues that have prompted widespread backlash toward the social media giant.

It comes after Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes published a scathing op-ed in the New York Times, in which he called for the firm to be broken up and argued that Facebook has become a monopoly. 

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Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, said in an interview that breaking up the social media giant wouldn't address any of the issues that people are concerned about

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said in an interview that breaking up the social media giant wouldn’t address any of the issues that people are concerned about

‘You could break us up, you could break other tech companies up, but you actually don’t address the underlying issues people are concerned about,’ Sandberg told CNBC. 

‘They’re concerned about election security, they’re concerned about content, they’re concerned about privacy and data portability.’ 

Instead, Sandberg repeated what CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives would rather see happen, which is an increase in government regulation of tech companies.  

‘We have large teams of people in the company whose only job is to safeguard elections, protect content, protect privacy,’ Sandberg told CNBC. 

‘But we also know that we can’t do it alone, so we’re calling for regulation.’

She added that Facebook has doubled down its efforts on safeguarding user data, noting that every team has a dedicated group of people working on safety and security.

‘We know at Facebook we have a real possibility to do better and earn back people’s trust,’ Sandberg told CNBC.  

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Sandberg didn’t elaborate on what increased regulation of Facebook would look like, but Zuckerberg in March published an op-ed in the Washington Post, where he discussed the need for ‘new rules’ for the internet. 

In it, he said there should be regulation established for harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.  

However, many believe that regulation isn’t enough to curtail Facebook’s growing dominance and say antitrust actions should be considered instead. 

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes recently published a scathing op-ed in the New York Times , in which he called for the firm to be broken up and argued that Facebook has become a monopoly

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes recently published a scathing op-ed in the New York Times , in which he called for the firm to be broken up and argued that Facebook has become a monopoly

Among those advocating for breaking up Facebook include Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

‘I think we have to seriously take a look at [breaking up Facebook,’ Harris told CNN’s Jake Tapper. 

‘We have to recognize it for what it is. It is essentially a utility that has gone unregulated.’

FACEBOOK’S $5 BILLION FTC FINE 

Facebook revealed in its latest quarterly earnings report that it expects to take on a one-time charge between $3 billion and $5 billion related to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.  

The FTC opened an investigation into Facebook’s privacy dealings last March in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The investigation remains ongoing, which means the terms of the settlement could change. 

However, the $3 billion fine is still a fraction of Facebook’s quarterly revenue, which grew 26 percent to $15.1 billion compared to the same period in 2018.

Critics have argued Facebook should face stronger punishments relative to the severity of privacy missteps it has made over the past year.  

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Warren has proposed undoing Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, an argument that was echoed by Hughes in his op-ed. 

‘Until recently, WhatsApp and Instagram were administered as independent platforms inside the parent company, so that should make the process easier,’ Hughes wrote. 

‘But time is of the essence: Facebook is working quickly to integrate the three, which would make it harder for the FTC to split them up.’ 

Facebook has plans to merge the messaging functions of its ‘family of apps,’ which include the core Facebook app, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, making the services further embedded within each other. 

In her argument against breaking up Facebook, Sandberg said Chinese tech firms are equally as powerful as US tech giants, but they won’t be broken up.

‘While people are concerned with the size and power of tech companies, there’s also a concern with the size and power of Chinese tech companies, and the realization that those companies are not going to be broken up’ Sandberg said.

‘So the question for us is how do we make sure we protect privacy, how do we make sure that the right regulatory framework is in place.’

When asked about the coming FTC settlement, Sandberg gave few details beyond saying the company would ‘have the right oversight.’

Last month, Facebook said it expects to get hit with a one-time charge worth $3 billion to $5 billion as a result of the FTC’s probe into the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which resulted in 87 million users’ data being harvested and shared with the Trump-affiliated campaign research firm.   

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WHAT IS THE CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA SCANDAL?

Communications firm Cambridge Analytica has offices in London, New York, Washington, as well as Brazil and Malaysia.

The company boasts it can ‘find your voters and move them to action’ through data-driven campaigns and a team that includes data scientists and behavioural psychologists.

‘Within the United States alone, we have played a pivotal role in winning presidential races as well as congressional and state elections,’ with data on more than 230 million American voters, Cambridge Analytica claims on its website.

The company profited from a feature that meant apps could ask for permission to access your own data as well as the data of all your Facebook friends.

The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix (pictured), after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump

The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix (pictured), after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump

This meant the company was able to mine the information of 87 million Facebook users even though just 270,000 people gave them permission to do so.

This was designed to help them create software that can predict and influence voters’ choices at the ballot box.

The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix, after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump.

This information is said to have been used to help the Brexit campaign in the UK.



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