Data Sheet—Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘Pivot to Privacy’ Is About More Than Just Privacy

March 14, 2019, 1:11 PM UTC
mark zuckerberg on the cover of fortune
Photo Illustration by Matthieu Bourel; Original Photographs by Frederic Legrand—Comeo/Shutterstock; Marlene Awaad—Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Deep into Michal Lev-Ram’s fine new cover story on Facebook in the just-out issue of Fortune is this startling fact: Facebook made an average of $35 last quarter on each of its U.S. and Canadian users, ten times the amount of per-user revenue it collects in the Asia-Pacific region. That rich-world/poor-world dichotomy is about what you’d expect. But it masks an important problem for Facebook. Its North American user growth has slowed to a relative trickle while it still adds users in the places where its advertising isn’t nearly as lucrative.

Facebook’s finances aren’t discussed nearly as much as all the other issues facing the company. But this bit of analysis helps explain why it’s so important for Facebook to offer new kinds of products. Yes, Facebook faces a scandal at every turn. And, as Lev-Ram writes, it is busily trying to rid its network of fraud, manipulative fakery, election interference, and the like. It’s doing so, though, primarily as a way of preserving a business that isn’t growing the way it used to.

The “pivot to privacy” that Mark Zuckerberg announced last week—and previewed in interviews with Fortune—are as much about finding new lines of business as they are a response to privacy concerns, competition, and regulatory challenges.

In its sprint of a 15-year existence Facebook already has made more than one heroic pivot. Now it needs to do so again. “I just think getting to the right model over time is going to help build a stronger community,” Zuckerberg told Lev-Ram. One question among many is: How much time?


Dancing on top of cars and stumbling out of bars. Speaking of Facebook, a federal criminal probe into the company's data sharing partnerships has expanded to include grand jury subpoenas, Bloomberg reports. Facebook said it's cooperating with the investigation.

The medicine and the pain. Those devious data crunchers at Google have devised a new way to sell ads in mobile games. A new tool inside Google's AdMob allows publishers to target ads only to players who are otherwise unlikely to make an in-game purchase and thus unlikely to be monetized, as they say in the parlance of the venue. But as one idea rises, another falls. Google is shuttering its group that makes content for virtual reality and 360-degree video called Spotlight Stories, Variety reports.

Tattoo inside my brain. Financing a self-driving car company is no easy business, it seems. Uber is in talks to sell a $1 billion minority stake in its effort to investors, possibly including Toyota and SoftBank Group. SoftBank is already the largest Uber shareholder and Toyota invested $500 million in the company's autonomous vehicle unit last year.

We change the weather. The cloud may be coming for your video games next. With various companies promising cloud gaming services, Microsoft this week demonstrated its Project xCloud game streaming offering. Players got to play complex games like Forza Horizon 4 on an Android phone, while the game itself was running back on Microsoft's Azure cloud servers. Google is expected to announce its competing service next week.

Birds of a feather. On Wall Street, big data took a big dive. Data analytics developer Cloudera said it would bring in only $855 million this year despite gobbling up rival Hortonworks. Analysts were expecting more than $900 million, so Cloudera's stock, already up 32% this year, dropped 13% in premarket trading on Thursday. Adobe and Oracle are slated to report their latest quarterly results later on Thursday.

I'm a sucker for you. I tend to feel like coverage of the recent college admissions cheating scandal has been way over the top—the real problems with our higher education system start with the $1.5 trillion of student debt, I'd wager, and have little or nothing to do with the 50—yes, just 50—people caught by the FBI in its big sting. But New York Times op-ed (and former tech) columnist Farhad Manjoo sees a connection between the cheating and the "Uberization of Graft." Worth a read.

(Headline reference explainer, if you've somehow missed the Jonas Brothers' latest.)


While Amazon tests the high-end of consumer online shopping demand, last year raising the price of a Prime subscription to $119, many consumers are left looking for a cheaper alternative. Enter Wish, the most downloaded shopping app in the world last year. The ultra-bargain discovery and e-commerce app run by former Google engineer Peter Szulczewski is valued at almost $9 billion by private investors and is looking to go public, perhaps in 2020 or 2021. Forbes reporter Parmy Olson spends some time with Szulczewski for a profile of the often overlooked app and its economically struggling shoppers. There are some challenges ahead, she writes:

A more existential problem: Lots of the stuff on Wish is trashy, shoddy, even fraudulent. There are hundreds of negative reviews for Wish on review sites like Trustpilot and HighYa. Customers are unhappy about unresponsive customer service, merchants who don’t send their orders and poor-quality goods. Szulczewski has hired Connie Chang, a former community manager at Facebook, to fix the problem. In an act of thrifty opportunism that would impress Jeff Bezos himself, she’s organizing roughly 10,000 Wish users to help the company weed out shady merchants in exchange for free goods and discounts. But Szulczewski seems unfazed by the quality-control challenge, pointing out that sometimes customers themselves are the problem. “We sell 5 million contact lenses a year,” he says. “Someone’s going to sleep in them.”


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DirecTV Now Is About to Cost More Each Month By Chris Morris


March 14 is obviously the day to celebrate everyone's favorite mathematical constant, Pi, which represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. My colleague Jaclyn Gallucci offers ten reasons to be excited about Pi. And some of the crack data wizards at Google's cloud computing unit have used the massive computing power at their disposal to calculate Pi out to the 31,415,926,535,897th digit—seriously. What is that final digit? You'll have to click to find out.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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