Tech

Sheryl Sandberg delivered a passionate, defiant defense of Facebook's business

Key Points
  • Facebook for weeks has had to defend its business model to lawmakers, investors and users.
  • The company has been steadfast, if not mildly unconvincing in it's defense.
  • But COO Sheryl Sandberg elevated the argument to a new level — looping Facebook's small business demographic into the conversation.
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Facebook for weeks has had to defend its business model to lawmakers, investors and users — insisting that selling targeted ads based on sometimes sensitive user information is the only way to keep the site free and globally accessible.

That defense hasn't always sounded convincing to its critics.

But COO Sheryl Sandberg on Wednesday elevated the argument — saying Facebook's small business clients have benefited enormously.

Here's what she said on the company's first-quarter earnings call:

Advertising and protecting people's information are not at odds. We do both. Targeted ads that respect people's privacy are better ads. They show people things that they're more likely to be interested in. We regularly hear from people who use Facebook that they prefer to see ads that are relevant to them and their lives.

Effective advertising is also critical to helping businesses grow. This is especially important for small businesses who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford to buy broad reach media. As Mark shared, we now have more than 80 million small businesses around the world using Facebook pages and many of them are building their businesses on Facebook. ...

We're proud of the ad model we've built. It ensures that people see more useful ads, allows millions of businesses to grow and enables us to provide a global service that's free for all to use. The fastest way to bridge the digital divide in the United States or around the world is by offering services free to any consumer regardless of their circumstance. Advertising supported businesses like Facebook equalize access and improve opportunity.

The foundation of Sandberg's defense isn't new: People want to see ads that are relevant to them.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg touted the premise in a series of media interviews and during two days of hearings before Congress.

Sandberg, though, notes that delivering relevant ads supports the small businesses who advertise and connect with customers through Facebook.

If Facebook's primary mission is to connect friends and relatives in meaningful ways, empowering small businesses has historically also been a close second.