Facebook’s Privacy Scandal Appears to Have Little Effect on Its Bottom Line

Facebook’s Privacy Scandal Appears to Have Little Effect on Its Bottom Line


“All the data privacy issues, the congressional hearings, none of that will get as much scrutiny from investors as the bottom line,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research. “All investors are looking for is a change in user metrics.”

The earnings report followed weeks of tumult for Facebook, after a controversy erupted last month when The New York Times and other news outlets reported that millions of Facebook users’ private information had been harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a political firm with ties to the Trump campaign. The revelations drew alarm from regulators and lawmakers and Mr. Zuckerberg appeared at two congressional hearings in Washington this month to answer questions about Facebook’s role and responsibilities.

On a conference call, Mr. Zuckerberg nodded at the controversy, saying that the company hopes to “keep moving forward” to make its products “good for people and good for society.”

But he had little reason to apologize to investors. Facebook’s user base and advertising revenue are still growing all over the world, with some of the fastest growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

The company’s growth does not appear to have been stalled by privacy concerns, although the revelations about Cambridge Analytica and a #DeleteFacebook campaign that followed from some irate users did not occur until late in the quarter, and could be reflected in future earnings.

Facebook faces other challenges. Next month, strict new European privacy regulations are set to take effect, which require tech companies to seek people’s consent before accessing their data. Facebook said that the rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, could lead to a decline in use in Europe.

“The first step for Facebook was to show that the problem is contained,” said Dan Ives, chief strategy officer and head of technology research for GBH Insights, a marketing research firm.

“A bigger worry for investors is what’s around the corner,” Mr. Ives said, noting that Facebook will need to prove that it is able to “navigate a more treacherous regulatory environment.”

In January, Facebook tried to soothe investors after announcing changes to its News Feed that demoted news in favor of updates shared by users’ friends and family. The company said then that it had experienced its first decline in the number of people who use Facebook on a daily basis in the United States and Canada; it also reported a dip in the amount of time spent on the platform. Mr. Zuckerberg said at the time that the changes would make Facebook more valuable over the long term.

On Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg said that the News Feed changes had worked largely as expected, increasing certain types of friends-and-family sharing while decreasing passive consumption of videos.

Mr. Zuckerberg also spoke about his trip to Washington to testify before Congress, saying it represented an “important moment” for the company. His testimony, which included fielding questions from members of Congress about Russian interference, political censorship and Facebook’s role in the developing world, was largely seen as a success within Facebook.

Lawmakers were less enchanted. On Wednesday, Democrats on the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee sent Facebook a list of follow-up questions that Mr. Zuckerberg had declined or been unable to answer during the hearings.

Representative Frank Pallone, Democratic of New Jersey, said that he hoped Mr. Zuckerberg would respond promptly to the questions, noting that Facebook “has yet to fully account for all of the data that it has on both users and nonusers and how it uses that data.”



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