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Sheryl Sandberg defends Facebook’s data-hungry business model

Sheryl Sandberg defends Facebook’s data-hungry business model
[Photo: Drew Altizer/Flickr]

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke publicly on Thursday for the first time about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, nearly a week after users and investors began to voice alarm at the revelation that the data-analytics firm had improperly gained access to the personal data associated with millions of Facebook user accounts. Like CEO Mark Zuckerberg the day prior, Sandberg apologized for the “huge breach of trust” that had occurred, and vowed to make amends.

“I am so sorry that we let so many people down,” she told CNBC. “This is about trust, and earning the trust of the people who use our service is the most important thing we do.”

In the past, Facebook has faced criticism for product updates that alienated some users. But in each case, that criticism eventually dissipated. This time around, the company is under scrutiny for the fundamentals of its business model–which Sandberg resolutely defended. “We believe that we can operate our service with our current business model, continue to provide a free service all around the world, and protect people’s data, but we are going to have to earn that trust,” she said.

Sandberg also had a message for her Wall Street viewers, whose increasingly negative outlook on the company had erased $50 billion in market value earlier in the week. “We’ve already said that we’re going to significantly impact our profitability, and we mean it,” she said. “And if we need to do more, we continue to do more. … We will make any investment we need to make.”

In the short term, new hiring will have the greatest impact on the company’s cost basis. For example, Zuckerberg said yesterday that he expects to hire an additional 5,000 people for community and security operations before the end of the year, bringing the total headcount of that division to over 20,000.

For some users, whose #DeleteFacebook outcry began trending on Twitter over the weekend, Sandberg’s reassurances may have arrived too late. She appeared to acknowledge as much to CNBC. “Sometimes we speak too slowly,” she said. “If I could live this last week again, I would definitely have Mark and myself speaking earlier. But we were trying to get to the bottom of this and make sure we could take strong action.”

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