Facebook co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday reiterated that the social media platform does not sell its users’ data to anyone. In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Zuckerberg argued that selling such information would not only undermine trust in Facebook, it would also go against its business interests as rivals could use it to compete for advertising.
Zuckerberg argued that targeting ads based on users’ interests was different from selling their data, AFP reported. “If we’re committed to serving everyone, then we need a service that is affordable to everyone,” he wrote. “The best way to do that is to offer services for free, which ads enable us to do.”
Zuckerberg said it was imperative to understand people’s interests in order to make ads relevant and less annoying. Facebook employs users’ “likes” and information they share about themselves to target advertising.
“Sometimes this means people assume we do things that we don’t do,” Zuckerberg said. “For example, we don’t sell people’s data, even though it’s often reported that we do.”
While Facebook has repeatedly said it does not sell users’ data, internal emails and other documents released by the British Parliament last year showed the network gave some companies such as Netflix special access to such information.
Zuckerberg said Facebook gives users certain controls in connection with the information used for ad targeting and also lets them block advertisers. He added that the company doesn’t deliberately attempt to target users with harmful or divisive content.
“Clickbait and other junk may drive engagement in the near term, but it would be foolish for us to show this intentionally, because it’s not what people want,” he wrote. “Another question is whether we leave harmful or divisive content up because it drives engagement. We don’t.”
Last year, Facebook was embroiled in several controversies in connection with data protection and privacy concerns. In one of the largest data breaches, private information of 87 million Facebook users was harvested by British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. A United Kingdom regulator in October had fined Facebook £500,000, around Rs 4.71 crore, for failing to ensure user privacy.
In December, Italy fined Facebook €10 million, around Rs 81.2 crore, for allegedly selling users’ data without informing the country’s competition authority. It also accused Facebook of “aggressively discouraging” users from trying to limit how the firm sold their information.
Facebook had also come under scrutiny after it was accused of being used as a platform to spread misleading information or fake news, in particular in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States. In May, Zuckerberg had apologised to the European Parliament for the Cambridge Analytica scandal and for failing to control fake news on Facebook.