The costs of running Facebook Inc. and its fast-growing social-networking empire are likely to continue to rise over the next two years as the company continues to make security and privacy improvements in the wake of controversies, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday.
Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -0.14% , which also runs Instagram and WhatsApp, is about a year into an approximately three-year effort to improve the safety and security of its platform and its members, Zuckerberg said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. He has previously stated that such large changes will significantly impact the company’s profitability for the foreseeable future.
“I wish I could snap my fingers and in three to six months solve all these issues,” he said, referring to, among other things, the problems with Cambridge Analytica mishandling data from up to 87 million members and Russian interference in U.S. elections via the platform. “I think the reality is complex. I think this is a multiyear effort.”
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Zuckerberg said that despite the three-year timeline, the pace of Facebook’s improvements will accelerate.
The question-and-answer call with reporters came amid a flurry of other Facebook announcements and in the wake of concern from lawmakers in Europe and the U.S. over data privacy — including Zuckerberg’s planned appearance before Congress to testify on the topic next week. After the news of improper data-handling by Cambridge Analytica broke, the company suffered its worst stock decline in four years.
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The 33-year-old billionaire addressed the #DeleteFacebook campaign that has spread online after news of the improperly handled data emerged in March. Thus far, the company hasn’t noticed a significant impact in the form of users leaving the platform, he said, adding that advertisers have not quit spending money on the site because of the issues and the #DeleteFacebook campaign.
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“But look, it’s not good,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to be unhappy with our services or us as a company.”
That specific statement seemed to cheer investors, who sent Facebook stock up more than 3% in after-hours trading amid the conference call. The stock closed down less than 1% to $155.10 in regular trading, and has lost 12% this year as the benchmark S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.47% has fallen 2.2%.
When asked on the call, Zuckerberg said he remained the best suited for the CEO job and that the board of directors had no plans that he knew of to replace him as chairman of the company. Separation of the chairman and CEO roles has been a target for corporate-governance hawks, as some investors believe it’s vital to hold the CEO to an independent board of directors.
Zuckerberg said Tuesday in a Facebook post that the company has now hired about 15,000 people to work on safety and security, up from the 12,000 announced on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call. Executives have previously said Facebook plans to hire about 20,000 people to combat the problems.
The company also announced Wednesday that as many as 87 million accounts may have been affected by the improperly handled data by Cambridge Analytica, which denied that accusation in a statement.
“Cambridge Analytica licensed data for no more than 30 million people from GSR, as is clearly stated in our contract with the research company,” the company said in an email. “We did not receive more data than this.”