Facebook’s Carolyn Everson on the ‘foundation of trust’ needed for the platform to survive

Lara O'Reilly (left) and Carolyn Everson talk Facebook's current issues at Advertising Week

Carolyn Everson, vice president, global marketing solutions for Facebook, knows that trust in the platform is needed for its survival, and she stated her case for that on the first day of Advertising Week New York.

Lara O’Reilly, media and marketing reporter at the Wall Street Journal, pressed Everson from the start of her one-on-one panel, confronting the recent data breach that affected more than 50 million users.

“You have no idea how incredibly upsetting this is, to me, to Facebook and to every user around the world,” said Everson. She noted that Facebook’s security team noticed an increase in activity about the ‘View As’ feature, then swiftly took action, then notified regulators and law enforcement. She mentioned that there were three bugs that made up the breach – the View As feature itself, then the bug that latched on to access tokens, and a third bug that would have to verify that the first two issues would have to be in place for the hackers to pretend they were someone else.

“It was extremely intricate that attackers were able to find this vulnerability. We notified the first 50 million out immediately. When you log out, the token is no longer viable…we logged out an additional 40 million people as a precaution…the investigation is still under way,” said Everson.

As it pertains to the marketers, Everson stated that she and the team have been in touch with many of their marketers to assure them that their data is safe. She said that many of the people she talked with were empathetic to what had happened, but they did want to know how to better protect their accounts.

“First, know all the admins on your account,” she said, adding that “good hygiene” of accounts is something every user should practice. She also reassured advertisers that their credit card information could not be hacked.

Trust was the big point of Everson’s talk, and she reiterated that fact often. “Our business is built on a foundation of trust. If we don’t have that, we don’t have a business,” she stated, adding that with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, they felt they should have gone back and checked that audit. “We’ve taken full responsibility for what happened. We’re taking responsibility for this as well. Trust is one of those things that is earned every day. We have to demonstrate to marketers and consumers that we take this very seriously.”

Everson went on to say that the company’s jump to mobile is eclipsed by this issue. “This is the most important cultural shift. We’re recognizing that and taking action. Can marketers trust us? The answer is yes. We serve people and marketers. Nothing else matters if we don’t get this right.”

O’Reilly brought up that two factor authentication data – from what many are calling ‘shadow profiles’ – has been used for ad targeting, sometimes without the user knowing. Asking if that information was needed for this targeting, Everson said the company is addressing the issue.

“We want consumers to have full control. If they don’t want something they can opt out. We need to be totally clear,” she said, adding that many people don’t know that they can opt out or where to do so. “We need to do a better job of making people aware of it. People don’t know that you can click on right side of an ad (for information). We didn’t have great awareness. We have great tools, but we have an awareness problem. What we’ve learned from GDPR is that people want their data to be utilized but they (want control of it).” She said that if the company didn’t have an advertising model, many people around the world wouldn’t have access to their services. “Advertising is an incredibly important model.”

On the data front, and in response to Cambridge Analytica, Everson said that Facebook is no longer facilitating uploads from third parties. They do want third parties, which she states have plenty of upsides if they are ethically sourced, to partner with them, but the onus is on them to be responsible with the data they collect. In response, Facebook has built some native tools with the goal is to ensure that whatever data is utilized is ethically sourced and they have permission to use it.

That said, with perhaps one of the most important midterm elections on the horizon, the company is more prepared than ever before.

Facebook has been through significant elections in other countries, like in Germany and France, said Everson, so the first thing they go after is fake accounts. She said 1.3 billion fake accounts have already been taken down, and to combat foreign interference, the company has actively shut down accounts from Russia and Iran.

In fighting fake news and information, Everson said that Facebook now has third party fact checkers. Fake news, when not caught by Facebook’s staff, is flagged to those checkers to slow down spread of fake news.

The company is also reducing ‘civic spam’ that is put forth by bots. “AI is sophisticated. We’re getting very aggressive at taking it down,” she said, adding that Facebook is taking a “leadership stance on verification” so it’s transparent who is paying for political ads. The social network is fighting across a number of fronts, and is ready for 11th hour attacks, being in contact with government agencies to stand guard, she said.

Everson also talked of the rise of Instagram Stories and how marketers are starting to move to it as it grows with consumers. The same can be said for WhatsApp, which has over 1.5 billion users and serves as a business hub for many small business around the world.

In closing, Everson said her job has evolved over the years and much of it lately is spent focused on people, while taking time to understand the complexity of policies. She said that Facebook is taking on tough questions and being held accountable. “The biggest cultural shift is, as great as technology can be, humanity has bad too and we are a reflection of humanity.”

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