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Cannes Lions 2019: Facebook is very serious about protecting user data, says Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook

The Chief Operating Officer of Facebook discusses the new stringent data protection guidelines the platform has put in place. She explains how advertisers can use Facebook to reach consumers in a more targeted fashion and how Libra, Facebook's cryptocurrency, could be used

Acknowledging that there have been loopholes in the past in protecting users' data, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook, said the social media platform was now very serious on user data protection.

In order to enhance data protection, she said Facebook was now following GDPR, Europe's stringent data protection guidelines, in other countries. Sandberg was speaking at a session on day four of the ongoing Cannes Lions 2019.

Talking about the advantages advertisers get on being Facebook, she said the platform has 500 million people making stories every day, which is helping advertisers to have that shift to mobile. “We have 20 million messages every day from people to business, and vice versa. Messaging has become really important in that sense,” she added.

She said everyone can do targeted advertising in protected privacy. Stressing how important targeted advertising has become, she said, it helps fuel FB’s business, providing 2.7 billion people free service, who otherwise couldn’t afford it and helping small companies grow with the ability to reach people faster.  To a question if that violates the privacy of users, she said, “We just give aggregated stats to marketers and no individual data. If you think as a user, you are witnessing really targeted ad which violates your privacy, then it gets creepy. We have to do a much better job in explaining our business model, explaining why targeted advertising is really important because it is a great service and a great experience for the users.”

Building privacy in its business model, Facebook is growing its understanding on how important privacy is to people and how to protect it.

Sandberg said if they looked at the early iterations of Facebook, it had allowed too much of data from its users’ end to get shared. She said, “Over the time, we have learnt we have to share minimal amount of data in ways people would understand it in full control so that we can create better social experiences. We are doing that now and also looking around the best model around the world. GDPR has been the most far reaching privacy legislation that has been passed. Because we know people care about their privacy and we provide them tools. We allow users to share their details with people of their choice and we need to make it clear how it works.”

Sandberg said Facebook and its executives have a responsibility towards people and their privacy. With whatever had happened during Cambridge Analytica and Russian interference in the US elections, she said Facebook missed out on that, and is doing a better job currently with the midterm elections and for 2020 elections.

Talking about the relationships the platform is building around the world and governments building safeguards, she said, “What we didn’t foresee at all in 2016, we missed that. We understood we have to apply serious engineering and money behind it protecting our platform and creating relationships. We work closely with US Department of Homeland Security. In EU we have a local approach where we work with experts from 28 countries, having a local operation centre in France. We now can’t say we know everything what is happening on Facebook. But we know we can come together with governments around the world and companies to do better.”

It takes down a million fake accounts a day before anyone can see them, being vigilant to protect the privacy of users. Speaking on the trust that it had lost because of data leakage, Sandberg said a lot is being done to earn that trust back, working with people around the world, building new tools, ushering into next era, writing new rules.

Facebook has recently announced Libra, a cryptocurrency for financial inclusion of the unbanked population globally.  Asked how exactly it is going to work, Sandberg said it is far from its launch and the announcement has been made early, and regulators are concerned.

“We are a tech company that wants to bring everyone along. Mark’s vision is to give voice to people all around the world. There are four billion people who don’t have access to internet and a billion people who are not connected to a financial system. We want technology to help everyone. It’s a formation of a global Libra association based in Geneva having 27 partners like PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, Spotify as well as NGOs and non-profit organisations. We want to provide a global cryptocurrency that is more available. It is an association not reporting to Facebook,” she added. 

When asked how Facebook deals with the false/ misinformative videos, Sandberg said the platform takes down videos which showcase hate, bullying because it believes no one should see that. If it’s a video with false, misinformation, it does not take it down because it thinks free expression demands the only way to fight with bad information is good information.

She added, “But we send misinformative videos to a third party for a cross-check and if they mark it false, we decrease its distribution, marking them ‘false’. There is no place for discrimination also on Facebook and we take that seriously.”

Explaining how people wrongly fear that Instagram and Facebook are ‘listening’ to users’ conversations, she said, “People need to understand why they are seeing what they say. What they see is basically because of the people that they are following and their followers. You get to see the posts of same kind that the people you interact with the most.” 

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