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Facebook admits it was too busy dealing with phishing attacks to protect your data

The company was too focused on old threats to protect people's data.


Phillip Tracy


Posted on May 30, 2018   Updated on May 21, 2021, 2:41 pm CDT

We’re months into a privacy scandal that already forced Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before lawmakers in the U.S. and Europe.

But even after all this time, there are still several important questions the social network hasn’t addressed. Fortunately, we got a few answers from the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday at Recode’s annual Code Conference.

When asked how Facebook failed to protect users from Cambridge Analytica, Sandberg explained that the company was focused on other threats at the time. Citing the Sony Pictures hack of 2014, the exec claims Facebook didn’t have the same problems other companies did earlier in the decade. As it focused its attention on more common attacks, like phishing scams, “we didn’t see coming a different kind of more insidious threat,” Sandberg said.

“We realized we didn’t see the new threat coming,” Sandberg continues. “We were focused on the old threat and now we understand that this is the kind of threat we have.”

Sandberg claims Facebook is now equipped with the knowledge and tools to prevent a similar incident, but she admitted no one knows exactly what data Cambridge Analytica exploited.

“They didn’t have any data that we could’ve identified as ours,” Sandberg said. “To this day, we still don’t know what data Cambridge Analytica had.”


Sandberg also addressed comments made earlier this year by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who called Facebook’s situation “dire” and called for “well-crafted regulation.”

“The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life—from my own point of view, it shouldn’t exist,” Cook said at the time.

Echoing Zuckerberg, Sandberg said, “Mark and I strongly disagree with their characterization of our product.”

Despite the controversies swirling around it, Facebook continues to grow. It beat Q1 expectations with 49 percent growth in revenue to $11.97 billion and its daily active users increased 13 percent year-over-year to 1.45 billion.

Its financial success raises questions about the potential for lawmakers to enact regulation that prevents it from growing out of control. When asked about the prospect, Sandberg said she expects to draw more questions from regulators as Facebook makes further acquisitions. However, she also said a major acquisition would “probably be allowed” if it was an expansion of Facebook, not part of its core business.

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*First Published: May 30, 2018, 1:08 pm CDT