Facebook COO: "A Few Advertisers Have Paused Spending With Us"

Two weeks ago we reported that in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, first Mozilla, then Germany's Commerzbank, and a handful of other smaller companies had suspended their Facebook ad campaigns, as advertisers decided to stay away from the radioactive company, at least until the tempest slamming the social media company faded.

Others were more tentative: ISBA, a British group of advertisers that spends hundreds of millions of pounds a year on Facebook, demanded answers. As The Times reported in March, some of ISBA's 3,000 brands, which include those of the consumer goods companies Unilever and P&G, said they would not tolerate association with Facebook if it emerges that users’ data has found its way into the hands of brokers and political campaigners without authorization. Sources close to the trade body said that if the company’s answers were not satisfactory, advertisers might spend their money elsewhere.

Two weeks later it appears that decisions whether or not to pull ads remain in limbo, even as - according to Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg - "a few" advertisers have paused their spending as they wait for the company to answer questions on user privacy.

“We’ve seen a few advertisers pause with us and they’re asking the same questions that other people are asking,” Sandberg said. “They want to make sure they can use data and use it safely.”

However, according to Bloomberg, Sandberg said she is having “reassuring conversations with advertisers, just as we are with people,” about how Facebook has built privacy into its system.

In a wide-ranging interview, Sandberg discussed the company’s shifting responsibilities as it thinks about what can go wrong with its network, following the Cambridge Analytica revelations. She said Facebook is drawing stricter boundaries around its work with certain advertisers and political campaigns, too. The company has worked directly with governments that went on to use the social network against their people, and advertisers that ran anti-Muslim content, for example.

Facebook will continue to work with political advertisers, and will still aim to be "neutral" when assessing content -- just more careful, Sandberg said.

But more importantly for Facebook, and perhaps the best indication that the storm for Zuckerberg & Co. has now passed, DataTrek'c Nick Colas found that the outrage over Facebook is now over. Specifically, Colas was looking at Google search data for “Delete Facebook” since the issues started, and found that the company has not seen any "meaningful impact" in its usage or business. Specifically:

  • While searches for the term did spike from March 18 to March 20, they are already most of the way back down to “normal” levels. It has been 18 days since “Delete Facebook” saw a large increase in search interest, and as of this past weekend search volumes were less than half what they were at their peaks in mid March.
  • Areas in the US with the most incremental interest in the term are lower-population states such as West Virginia, Montana, Maine, Alaska and North Dakota. Zoom in on high population states such as California, New York and Texas and you will find that “Delete Facebook” searches are entirely back to pre-crisis levels.
  • At its peak of Google search interest, “Delete Facebook” was as popular as “Kim Kardashian”. Now, Kim is back in the lead with a 2:1 advantage and climbing.
  • Also more popular than “Delete Facebook”: “Pizza” (65x more), “CNBC” (2x, although it was close for a few days), and “Game of Thrones” (3x, and the show hasn’t been on for a while).

Bottom line: unless there are a lot more revelations coming, #deletefacebook is #over.

It also means that for all the advertisers' virtue signalling, and for all Facebook promises that it will change the way it conducts business, just a few weeks after Zuckerberg testifies before Congress next week in yet another kangaroo court which achieves nothing, things will quietly go back to just the way they were, with Facebook collecting billions in "ad" revenue in exchange for selling all of your personal data to the highest bidders.