Solutions To Facebook's Privacy And Security Concerns Come At A Cost

Aug 3, 2018
Originally published on August 3, 2018 7:07 am
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Earlier this week, Facebook said it took down 32 accounts involved in deceptive political influence campaigns. This comes after over a year of scandals that have plagued the company and just months ahead of the midterm elections. There is growing concern over what kind of security a social media platform that is free for users can actually provide. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports that privacy and security come at a cost.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Despite what you may have heard, Facebook is in an enviable position. About half of the Internet-using world is on it. And the company made over $13 billion in revenue in the last three months. And yet if you tuned into the company's most recent earnings call, you'd think you were crashing someone's funeral. Facebook announced it hasn't been growing as fast as usual. Here's one investor.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What's driving this fairly dramatic deceleration of revenue growth?

GARSD: CFO David Wehner could only muster an awkward response.

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DAVID WEHNER: In terms of what is - you know, what is driving...

GARSD: Immediately after the opinion pieces reined in - warning that, after a string of privacy and security problems, the social media platform is in deep trouble. Jeffrey Chester is the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. He says what's happening to Facebook...

JEFFREY CHESTER: Was a message being sent by both the investor class and the global Internet public - I mean, the reason that there's a decline in revenues is that people are leaving Facebook.

GARSD: But Antonio Garcia-Martinez, a former Facebook product manager, says something different is happening.

ANTONIO GARCIA-MARTINEZ: Facebook has had to hire a lot more people and have a lot more teams in various parts of the world dealing with, you know, privacy issues.

GARSD: During that really tense earnings call, the company warned that next year its expenses will keep rising faster than revenues. A Facebook spokesperson told NPR that it intends to add 5,000 more content moderators by the end of 2018. All this hiring by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is not convincing everyone. Here's Jeffrey Chester again, of the Center for Digital Democracy.

CHESTER: One of the strategies here that Facebook is embarking on is to tell Congress it's doing everything it can. And don't think about regulating. We're taking care of it. But I think we're deceiving ourselves.

GARSD: Chester says Facebook needs to accept U.S. government regulation. Whatever you make of Facebook's recent efforts and motives, this is a pivotal moment. Antonio Garcia-Martinez says the fact that Facebook is spending so much on privacy will be good for users.

GARCIA-MARTINEZ: Historically, most social media strategies have been - look - just go for growth. Ignore niceties, like user security and privacy and content moderation, because they're too expensive. I don't think that's going to be a viable strategy going forward.

GARSD: He says we're moving into an era in which social media companies must take privacy and security seriously. And that means paying a price. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.