One of Facebook's top executives had an awkward public face-off with Amazon's CTO over making money from user data
- Facebook's most senior lobbyist Nick Clegg attended the DLD conference in Munich on Monday, and took questions from the audience.
- Amazon CTO Werner Vogels was in the audience and stood up to ask Clegg an awkward question about the way Facebook monetizes its users by collecting huge amounts of their data.
- Clegg said Facebook doesn't sell user data, and said the platform has made strides in user transparency surrounding data sharing.
- It was a rare instance of execs from two major tech companies spatting in public, and shows that
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One of Facebook's top executives had a surprise face-off against Amazon's CTO while giving a talk at the Digital Life Design (DLD) conference in Munich on Monday.
Facebook head of communications Nick Clegg did an interview at DLD and took questions from the audience at the end.
One of the questions came from Amazon's chief technology officer, Werner Vogels. He stood up and said: "If you don't pay for the product you are the product... I'd like to believe 95% of your customers do not understand that they are the product. What would you want to do for them to make them realize that they are selling their data, or that they actually have precious goods in their hands that are being sold to others?"
Clegg denied that Facebook sells user data outright, and argued that Facebook's advertising model stops the platform from being available only to rich people.
"I strongly agree with the implicit suggestion in your question that we can and must do more to make that relationship [between data sharing and targeted advertising] more explicit. I don't agree with the characterization of the way you say it because we don't actually sell people's data, but that's a separate debate," he said.
Clegg continued that he believes Facebook has got better at letting users know in clear terms how their data is being shared and used. "We're starting to roll out a new tool which you can find on Facebook called 'Off Facebook Activity,' so that you can see all the signals that Facebook receives through cookies and pixels when you go and visit... A shoe shop, a book shop or whatever," he said.
"Crucially you can say, 'I don't want those signals to be sent to Facebook or shared with Facebook again'," he added.
Amazon's business model is not reliant on digital advertising, but ads are still an area which generates billions of dollars in revenue for the e-commerce giant, and a Business Insider Intelligence report found Amazon's ad business is likely to grow and eat into Facebook and Google's market share.
Likewise, Amazon relies on information about people's purchases and site browsing habits to inform what it displays on its site.
Amazon is also the owner of security firm Ring, which has been accused of building up a massive, unofficial surveillance network with its popular connected doorbells.
You can watch Vogels' question and Clegg's response here:
Clegg also took a question from former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser, who criticized the company's decision to let political ads run with no fact-checking. "Why is Facebook calling the moderation of political content... Why is Facebook claiming that that is censorship?" she asked.
"I don't think we do call it censorship," Clegg replied. "Of course you need to strike the right balance, that's why we have our own standards in addition to the law... That's one of the most tricky cultural, legal, and ethical balances in any modern society," he said.
"I'm sure you guys can do better at that," Kaiser said, to which Clegg responded with a laugh: "I'm sure we can do better."
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