Sheryl Sandberg wants you to know she regrets Cambridge Analytica

Respectfully leaning in.
Respectfully leaning in.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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Shortly after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a statement addressing the Cambridge Analytica scandal today (March 21), Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, weighed in, too.

She had been greatly missed since last week, when the bombshell story about a major security breach dropped. Until today, the two executives had followed an unlikely playbook: They said nothing 

That was especially surprising of Sandberg, whose public persona as a leader in Silicon Valley, best-selling author, and champion of equal pay, is inviting, direct, and candid. “Facebook Needs Sheryl Sandberg Out Front,” said a Fast Company headline.

Her near-apology does reflect the Sandberg we’ve come to know. She opens with a sentence fragment, the way one would when messaging a friend. And she expresses her deep regret that the company hadn’t responded adequately, ending with “if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you.”

Sharing Mark’s post addressing the Cambridge Analytica news. As he said, we know that this was a major violation of peoples’ trust, and I deeply regret that we didn’t do enough to deal with it. We have a responsibility to protect your data – and if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you.

Next, she reiterates the same announcements Zuckerberg made in his statement, but more succinctly. The company will investigate the companies that, like the researcher connected to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, had access to data obtained through the profiles of a user’s friends prior to changes in made in 2014, and it will cut ties with any firm found to have misused that data. It will also reduce the amount of info people share with other apps when they login through Facebook, and make it clear to users which apps have access to their information.

Zuckerberg signed off with a message of aspiration: “I want to thank all of you who continue to believe in our mission and work to build this community together. I know it takes longer to fix all these issues than we’d like, but I promise you we’ll work through this and build a better service over the long term.”

Sandberg was again more conversational:  You deserve to have your information protected – and we’ll keep working to make sure you feel safe on Facebook. Your trust is at the core of our service. We know that and we will work to earn it.”

Although this is a step forward for a company that has been harshly criticized for not responding sooner to the news, and for allowing the breach to happen in the first place, today’s statements still do not speak to criticism that predates the Cambridge Analytica problem. A group of tech insiders, including Mark Zuckerberg’s former mentor, venture capitalist Roger McNamee,  have argued that Facebook’s business model itself was what allowed other bad actors to interfere in democratic processes, including the US election.

“The problems were inherent in the attention-based, algorithm-driven business model,” McNamee wrote in Washington Monthly recently, also explaining that the algorithms favor fear-mongering posts and sensationalism. He added: “And what I suspected was Russia’s meddling in 2016 was only a prelude to what we’d see in 2018 and beyond.”

Read Sandberg’s full statement, here: