Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: targeted ads don't trample on privacy

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy

Sheryl SandbergFacebook Bigwig Sheryl Sandberg wants us all to know that, targeted advertising or no, the Zuckerbergians are hovering over our private data like an anxious mother bird protecting her fluffy nestlings from voracious advertising raptors.

Anyway, that's the gist of what Sandberg said when BBC Breakfast asked the chief operating officer whether Facebook might lose users who don't like the "Big Brother" element of targeted advertising:

Privacy is of the utmost concern and importance to Facebook, and it's important to us that the people who use our service know that we are very protective of them. It is their data, they have control of it, they share it. When we are able to personalize ads, we are doing that without sharing their private data with any advertisers.

Facebook just marked its 10th anniversary, which we commemorated with an overview of 10 years of security and privacy thrills & chills.

During that time, it's worth noting, Facebook hasn't always protected us like fluffy fledglings. We've often felt more like hors d'ouevres. But I digress.

Sandberg's comments came after she spoke at the company's first European "SME client council", at the company's international headquarters in Dublin.

The council was set up to help Facebook executives and small businesses cooperate in improving links with social media and advertising.

Speaking to business executives from the UK and Ireland, Sandberg said that the missions of Facebook and small and medium-sized businesses are "inextricably tied" - easy to see, given how many companies communicate with their customers via Facebook.

From her BBC Breakfast interview:

We have 25 million small- to medium-sized businesses around the world that use our free products to set up a page and use it to reach their customers. So just as I can share with you if we're friends on Facebook, small businesses can reach their customers.

Sandberg also predicted a fast-approaching future in which the word "online" is going to seem rather quaint. We're getting to the point where we're always going to be online, she said.

Is that because Facebook plans to implant neural tubes?

No, not yet. Rather, it's because mobile phones are keeping us constantly plugged in, she said:

We're in the middle of the fastest adoption of disruptive technology we've ever seen, and that's the adoption of the mobile phone.

The word 'online' is getting to be an old-fashioned word. We're all going to be connected all the time.

This is a good thing, she said.

Being active on Facebook means people have a good chance of having stronger personal relationships, because they're able to use technology "for something that matters to them."

And here is where we hand over the megaphone - well, OK, the comments section - to our many readers who won't touch Facebook with a 10-foot pole.

Do you lack strong personal relationships because of your lack of Facebook? Do you feel that you still manage to use technology in a meaningful way?

We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Also, for those of you who are on Facebook, we say Lean In - to security! If you like Naked Security's Facebook page you'll be able to share information on threats and discuss the latest security news, be it malware, privacy or targeted ads.

We don't target you for advertising - just for security news!

Image of Sheryl Sandberg by cellanr [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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12 Responses to Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: targeted ads don't trample on privacy

  1. Star · 496 days ago

    Facebook Ad security goes as low as this:

    While fooling around on my news feed the other day, I realised that the Ad side bar was displaying Amazon Offers for the last items I had viewd.
    Not on plain text, but as a clickable image.
    I have never connected Amazon and Facebook accounts, so it is almost like facebook got access to Amazon's cookies!
    And even if this is not true and Facebook simply allowed Amazon to display a targeted ad there, there is ABSOLUTELY NO guaranty that Facebook can't OCR that image and see what I've been looking for on Amazon!
    This was a huge shock to realise.

    • ...or Amazon knows, and is serving targeted content for you via Facebook. Occam's Razor, mate.

    • LonerVamp · 496 days ago

      To be fair, that's probably actually Amazon mining your data. The Facebook ad slot probably points over to Amazon. And Amazon happily will email updates on and display ad banners for recently searched-for items or things you may like based on your previous purchases or browsing.

      It makes for interesting days at work, if you happen to go to Amazon the day after shopping for some intimate bits while coworkers are around.

      Little is sacred in the pursuit of profits (especially for public companies) when there is no transparency.

    • What you're seeing is most likely Facebook's trackers on Amazon's pages recognising you because you're currently logged into your Facebook profile. They can then record which pages you were visiting, and then pop up a reminder on Facebook on the off-chance that you browsed but didn't buy.

      My advice? Get a browser addon like Disconnect that will block and report such trackers, whether by social networks or advertisers. It can be quite eye-opening to see just how many there are on some pages!

    • Star · 493 days ago

      as I stated in my original post, even if it's just amazon projecting targeted ads there, I never asked for it and facebook clearly has the ability to OCR (do you people even know what OCR is?) the ad and spy on me!

  2. Logy · 496 days ago

    She is so full of crap I can hardly sit still. Facebook doesn't give a flying s**t about any of us, we use their free service, and in return they'll do anything to push "relevant" advertising. If people are uncomfortable with it they'll stop using your service, but in the meantime lady let's not go around spreading half-truths about how they "care" about us.

  3. LindaB · 496 days ago

    There is a new style of being around nowadays, they look rather like normal human beings but are bent over and fiddling with something all the time. It takes their attention away from everything else and they walk zombie-like into things and people - even strolling onto ythe railway tracks without looking and they seem to have wired appendages where we normal beings have ears.
    Oh! They're peering intently at something called Facebook! Little wonder they can't communicate by voice interaction any longer and are very short sighted. What's that? They're being targetted by ads? But they've spent what money they had on the gadget they call a smart phone and on gallons of booze! So they don't have any spare money to squander on buying other products they don't want but some business thinks they should know about!
    I must be abnormal, I haven't got one of those gadgets growing out of my ears and watch where I'm walking and talk with my real voice to real people I meet every day. Am I odd or just different?

  4. When Sheryl Sandberg said "When we are able to personalize ads, we are doing that without sharing their private data with any advertisers", she's factually correct in as much as the advertiser doesn't get to see your mugshot - the personalisation is just Facebook's way to entice people to click on adverts by making them look more like endorsements. I think that is what *really* gets people's hackles raised.

    I have to wonder if her visit to Europe to court SMEs is linked to disquiet over revelations about just how much Facebook has curbed those SMEs' ability to reach fans of their company Pages.

  5. Although, I don't use Facebook much, I keep an account there. I have had many places around the Phoenix area that run giveaways or prizes about once a month. I get furious that they require you to log into Facebook, just to enter the drawing. Then they tell you that you are giving this data to only the company, not to Facebook. I'm not done with this yet as I'm sure it's illegal, since my wife can't get into the drawings without a Facebook account and she refuses. I guess it's just a side note..


  6. Mike B · 496 days ago

    I hate to disillusion her, but some of us will never be "constantly online" in the manner she described. I do buy from Amazon regularly (mostly DVDs), but do NOT have a Facebook account nor any kind of mobile device. I'm in my late 60's, have been disabled-retired nearly 20 years and rarely get out, so have no use (let alone need) for a mobile phone.

  7. Vincent G · 397 days ago

    I'm younger, and definitely am not in this group of always connected people. I used to have the Facebook app on my old smartphone (and the tab for it does live in my main computer browser), but I quickly got rid of the app when it insisted on wasting my data and battery trying to upload pictures to itself and update my feed when I didn't want it to. This was even after I told it to never do the picture thing. I want my phone to still function as a phone after all - that is its primary purpose.

    And Alan Ralph's suggestion is a good one. I installed two ad and tracker blockers into firefox a month or so back, and it has made a huge difference in my ease of using the various sites I go to (not to mention improving the load times and overall stability of firefox immensely).

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.