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Meta’s new values neglect its below-deck problems

February 16, 2022, 6:00 PM UTC

Ahoy, metamates! Cpt. Mark Zuckerberg welcomes you, our loyal employees, aboard the redesigned S.S. Meta. 

We’ve got some ground rules for you to follow on this ship sailing deep into the Horizon Worlds: “move fast,” “focus on long-term impact,” and “live in the future.” 

Oh, and if you happen to see any leaks in the hull, fear not. The metaverse will save us!

For the first time in 15 years, Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Tuesday an updated set of company values at the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and the former Oculus. The six tenets largely drive home Meta’s commitment to dominating the metaverse, a still-nebulous mix of virtual and augmented reality where people will congregate via avatars for work, concerts, and other gatherings. 

Social media pundits predictably savaged the corporate-speak, taking particular pleasure in skewering the final value: “Meta, Metamates, and Me.” The slogan plays off an old U.S. Navy ethos—ship, shipmates, self—that preaches putting the collective good over individual glory.

While peanut galleries love to revel in mockery of sanctimonious business slogans, no matter the content, Meta’s new mottos do reveal a potentially concerning corporate focus for consumers, employees, and investors alike. Namely, the overarching message centers on charting the tantalizing future, rather than navigating the choppy present.

For all of Zuckerberg’s zeal about conquering the metaverse—in some ways understandably so, as I explored earlier this month—he’s yet to articulate a compelling vision for Meta’s short-term issues, which have contributed to a 41% drop in its share price over the past six months. (The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 is down 4% during that same stretch.)

Most immediately, Meta is losing its edge on the social media front, where the company derives virtually all of its revenue via ads. Two weeks ago, Facebook reported its first quarterly decline in daily active users, sparking worries that the platform’s popularity has peaked. Total use across all Meta apps, including Instagram and WhatsApp, increased during the quarter, albeit at slower-than-expected rates.

In an early February earnings call, Zuckerberg largely hawked Instagram’s short-form video product, Reels, as a solution to Meta’s stagnant social media growth. But that offering amounts to little more than a knockoff of TikTok, which already carries more cultural cache among the coveted teen demographic.

Meta also hasn’t outlined concrete ideas for breaking through regulatory, political, and privacy challenges—many of which stem from the company’s unwillingness to acknowledge its past failures.

In the coming year, European lawmakers could enshrine new laws that limit app developers’ ability to collect users’ data and efficiently target them with ads, a practice that Meta massively profited off for years with minimal public awareness. 

Those would come on the heels of Apple’s iOS privacy changes last year, which curtailed developers’ access to iPhone user data and are expected to eat about $10 billion in Meta’s 2022 ad revenue. Google also announced plans Wednesday for privacy updates to its Android operating system, which could further impact Meta’s ad sales (more on that below).

Unlike the past, Meta can’t buy its way out of trouble. Regulators in the U.S. and Europe, responding in part to Meta’s purchases of upstart rivals Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, are cracking down on acquisitions they would have previously allowed, as they try to limit the domination of Big Tech giants.

To top it off, Meta leadership’s combative response in recent years to dangerous rhetoric on Facebook and harmful postings consumed by teens on Instagram, as well as its wishy-washy enforcement of content moderation across all platforms, pleased virtually nobody. To wit, Facebook ranked No. 98 out of 100 in the 2021 Axios Harris corporate reputation survey, besting only the Fox Corporation and the Trump Organization. 

“For those of us living in the present, @Meta Facebook isn’t ‘nicing us to death,’” Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen tweeted Tuesday in response to Zuckerberg’s new slogans. “Facebook must recognize the damage they are causing today, not pivot to the @Meta-verse and never look back.”

Faced with so many headwinds, it’s no wonder Zuckerberg wants to fast-forward into the future. But Meta already has enough problems it needs to solve in the here and now.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions for Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

Following in Apple’s footsteps. Google announced Wednesday that it plans to institute privacy changes that limit app developers’ ability to track smartphone user activity across the Android operating system, delivering another blow to Meta and other ad-based companies that profit off the practice, The Wall Street Journal reported. While Google released few details about the changes, they could mirror tweaks put in place last month by Apple, which now requires apps to ask users for permission to track their in-phone movement. Google’s updated protocols are expected to take effect in 2024, giving app developers more time to adjust than Apple provided. 

Can we start over? Shares of Roblox plummeted 24% in mid-day trading Wednesday after the gaming company issued an underwhelming earnings report, prompting speculation that users are returning to other activities as pandemic fears wane. The gaming platform, among the most popular globally with teens, reported fourth-quarter “bookings”—a key internal measure of Roblox revenue—that totaled about $770 million, just shy of analyst forecasts of about $772 million. Roblox also saw losses of 25 cents per share, higher than Wall Street estimates of 13 cents per share.

On the flip side. Airbnb topped analysts’ earnings and revenue estimates for its fourth quarter, spurred by an increase in reservations among customers anxious to travel after pandemic-induced isolation, CNBC reported Tuesday. The vacation rental company scored $1.53 billion in revenue for the quarter, topping Wall Street’s consensus estimate of $1.46 billion, and predicted a strong first quarter of 2022. Airbnb shares rose 5% in mid-day trading Wednesday.

Put the shovels away. The leader of San Francisco’s top legislative body proposed Tuesday an 18-month moratorium on new parcel delivery facilities, including Amazon fulfillment warehouses, the latest development in a slow-building backlash against massive commerce buildings, Engadget reported. The proposal, made by San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton, follows criticism of the environmental and quality-of-life impacts on local residents who live near the giant facilities. Bay Area union advocates also pushed for the measure, citing Amazon’s opposition to labor organizing.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Some strange bedfellows. While Apple and Google remain fiercely protective of their own app stores, two other tech giants are teaming up to make the app ecosystem a bit more open, Axios reported Wednesday. In a rare move, Microsoft is now allowing Amazon’s App Store to operate within Windows 11 following an update to the PC-based operating system. The change comes as U.S. lawmakers consider legislation that would force Apple and Google, which bank huge profits off their tightly controlled app stores, to allow downloading of third-party apps on their respective smartphone operating systems.

From the article:

Recent moves by Google and Microsoft show both companies aim to expand their respective reach by beginning to loosen the traditionally tight link between a computer and the operating system it runs.

Why it matters: Most people like using whatever app they want wherever they want it more than they care about operating systems.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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Ukraine Defense Ministry and banks hit by cyberattack amid confusing signs about Russia’s intentions, by Jeremy Kahn

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Why businesses are buzzing over transformers, by Jonathan Vanian

Meet the crew of SpaceX’s all-civilian spacewalkers, which includes a billionaire and an Air Force vet, by Tristan Bove

Why Elon Musk dropped out of Stanford after only two days, by Mahnoor Khan

BEFORE YOU GO

ISIS? I thought you said “IKEA.” Somebody at Ericcson apparently missed the “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” memo. In a stunning admission to a Swedish news organization, the telecom manufacturer’s CEO, Borje Ekholm, acknowledged that employees might have paid members of ISIS for access to transportation routes in Iraq, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. While Ericcson executives haven’t definitely concluded their staff did business with jihadists—Ekholm described the transactions for now as “unusual expenses dating back to 2018”—investors weren’t waiting around to find out. Ericcson’s U.S.-based shares were down 14% in mid-day trading Wednesday.

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