Sheryl Sandberg revealed a new argument to stop regulators from breaking up Facebook

Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on September 5 concerning foreign influence operations' use of social-media platforms.

caption
Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on September 5 concerning foreign influence operations’ use of social-media platforms.
source
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  • Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, says the company is working hard with regulators worldwide to create new rules to regulate internet companies such as it.
  • And she has a new argument as to why regulators shouldn’t break up Facebook.
  • The argument goes like this: Even if we broke up Facebook, there would still be big, powerful Chinese companies that weren’t subject to a breakup.
  • It’s a red-herring argument for sure, but it gives insight into the types of conversations Facebook is having with regulators as it lobbies them for rules to its liking.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In what seems like a scene from “Groundhog Day,” Facebook executives are once again on the apology-and-promises tour about the company’s lax attitude toward privacy and security.

On Friday, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, appeared on CNBC interviewed by Julia Boorstin and was asked about calls to break up the company. The Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes sparked the conversation last week when he called for Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram to be separated, only for the revelation to emerge this week that a vulnerability in WhatsApp left phones open to infection from a sophisticated snooping tool that has been used to target political dissidents.

Sandberg stuck to new and slightly improved company talking points, acknowledging on CNBC that “we know at Facebook that we have a real responsibility to do better and to earn back people’s trust” and promising that “we’re fundamentally changing how we run the company.”

Facebook says it’s investing billions in areas like privacy, content security, and safeguarding elections, even if that limits some of the ads that might run on its site.

But Sandberg also indicated the company had become fully focused on helping to shape the rules that would be used to oversee Facebook and its competitors.

“I know that people have real concerns about the size and power of the tech companies, including Facebook,” Sandberg said. “And I think those are the right questions. And the question is, ‘What is the right answer?’ I think the right answer is to set up the right rules for the internet.”

She also revealed a new argument for why regulators should not break up Facebook, one we’re likely to hear a lot more about in the coming months: China.

Sandberg said she just spent time in Washington meeting with lawmakers from both major political parties.

“But let me share with you something else I heard in my meetings in DC,” she said (emphasis ours). “And I heard this in private meetings from both sides of the aisle, that while people are concerned with the size and power of tech companies, there is also a concern in the United States about the size and power of Chinese tech companies. And that, you know, realization that those companies are not going to be broken up.”

“And so, the question is for us is how do we make sure we protect privacy, how do we make sure we work with authorities to safeguard elections, how do we make sure the right content is on Facebook, and how do we make sure that the right regulatory framework is in place?” she added. “And we’re working hard on all of that.”

Bringing in China is really a red-herring scare tactic.

Chinese companies may well be powerful. Some of them may also be patsies for government-sponsored spying or Mafia-like hacker syndicates.

But that has nothing to do with whether Facebook is behaving in the public interest.

You can break it up, but that won’t stop the problem

Facebook and Google are pretty much a duopoly when it comes to internet advertising (though Amazon, another tech company critics say is too powerful, is trying to break in).

To maintain its billions in revenue, Facebook collects data on people to sell ads. To collect data, Facebook allows its users to share content. The more data Facebook collects, the more money it makes.

Sandberg points out, correctly, that breaking Facebook apart will merely create multiple companies, all now focused on growth and not user protection.

“Because you could break us up, you could break other tech companies up, but you actually don’t address the underlying issues people are concerned about,” she said. “With so many people on our services, whether you have them in one company or many, there is still a lot of people.”

Read more: Why breaking up Facebook is actually a terrible idea

As long as its business model remains the same, the company’s continual protests that, this time, it can be left alone to do the right thing are suspect at best, even if CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg appear to be good people at heart who want to do right.

Yet Sandberg is spending her time personally lobbying Congress, and, she said, Zuckerberg just personally met with French President Emmanuel Macron – his country is one where both Facebook and Google have been in hot water with regulators before.

So, what is the company really doing? Trying to influence the regulators and regulations.

“If I look at my job now, my job has really changed,” Sandberg said. “That we – I used to spend more of my time working on growth, and now I’m spending more of my time safeguarding the company.”