Social Media

‘We are in the process of monetisation in India’

Thomas K Thomas New Delhi | Updated on November 25, 2017

SHERYL SANDBERG, COO, Facebook

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Sheryl Sandberg’s association with India goes back to 1991, when she worked on a leprosy eradication programme in Delhi, for the World Bank. Back then India was just opening up its economy and things like the Internet were a luxury, forcing Sandberg to communicate with her family back in the US via fax.

Over two decades later, Sandberg is visiting India as the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, with a mandate to connect a billion users. To do this, Facebook has undertaken a number of initiatives, such as Internet.org, aimed at making affordable and faster applications in collaboration with handset makers, telecom companies and the Government.

Business Line was part of a select media roundtable where she outlined Facebook’s global ambitions and how India figures in it. Edited excerpts.



How significant is India for Facebook?

India is a huge part of the global economy and an important country for Facebook. It’s the second largest country in terms of user base for us after the US. While the number of users in the US represents a large part of the population, the 100 million users we have here do not represent a large part of the Indian population. This means there’s a huge opportunity to grow in India. We have one of our four global centres here, contributing to our global business. We had launched the Bug Bounty programme aimed at identifying bugs on the Facebook platform. The largest payments under this programme went to India, emphasising the great engineering talent. Our focus is on getting the next billion people connected.

What are your priorities for India. Any plans to start R&D here?

We are just in the process of opening out our engineering locations and we will continue to consider India. There’s strong engineering talent here and we will take that seriously. We see a lot of contribution from our global operations centre here, which contributes to our global business. A lot of work on feature phones was done here or with this market in mind. We also want to grow the business. And that will happen as people go online. In the US, a person watches 4.5 hrs of TV on an average and 5.25 hours on digital media, driven by smartphones, and it’s growing.

In India, people spend three hours on smartphones every day and one-and-half hour on TV. So, marketers go where people are and we are fully geared with our mobile strategy.

You have 100 million users in India but have you been able to start monetising the platform?

We are in the process of monetisation in India. There are 900,000 small businesses that have an active Facebook page. Some have started advertising with us. We are prepared to invest ahead of the potential. India is one of the biggest bets for Facebook. No country in the world has potential like India.

FB has received a lot of flak for its study on user emotions…

We communicated very badly on this and we regret that. This was a one-week study a long time back and testing different aspects of the product. We were working closely with regulators around the world and we are fully compliant with laws. The broader issue is privacy and we take this incredibly seriously. It is your data and you chose to share it. We shouldn’t take your personal data. It’s up to us to make people understand how serious we take this.

For example, we have dedicated precious real estate on top of the FB page for privacy. We have starting doing more things. For example, if a user posts data in public, we are sending a message asking if he or she really wants to share it publicly or with friends.

How do you react to criticism that FB tries to influence user behaviour?

We don’t produce content, we don’t write articles or editorialise. We are just giving you the best of what’s already there. None of it is motivated by a political point of view.

We are just trying to show you what you find interesting and that’s based on your inputs. It’s driven by what users do and what users tell us.

Will we see more partnerships under Internet.org? Will you bring things like drones in India to address Internet connectivity issues?

The mission of Internet.org is to get the next 4-5 billion users online. In the near term, we are working on products that are better, faster and cheaper. Anything that compresses data and facilitates faster uploads increases people’s ability to use FB. We did a project with Airtel offering free FB in 9 languages. You can expect more. Things like drones, satellites and laser are part of our long-term goals. These are at nascent stages but we are making serious investments.

The Indian regulator may intervene in the debate between telecom operators and over-the-top players such as FB. What’s your position on this?

The Net neutrality debate is active. There needs to be a free and open Internet. It’s important to work with companies on business models that enable Internet access. There’s lot of interest in regulation on this around the world. I don’t know what intervention you will have in India so I can’t comment.

The Government has arrested people based on what they post on FB. On the other hand, politicians also use it to post their activities. How do you see this?

It is good that FB is used by politicians because it makes Governance transparent. As a company we work for freedom of expression.

Do you personalise FB according to different cultures and different regions?

When I joined FB, I thought we would have to personalise according to country or region. But I realised that FB is already personalised. The content you see is already Indian. We didn’t need to personalise but we did some localisation, like local languages.

When will we see an FB phone?

We are the No. 1 thing people are using on phones. I don’t think we need to make hardware.

What could go wrong for FB?

We work in an incredibly competitive space. We compete for every minute of our enterprise customers and for every dollar we get. We want to get the best returns for them.

Similarly with people, users have the choice to be on the phone or switch on the TV. We want to invest in products that are engaging.

Any M&A plans in India?

We are open to acquisitions, including in India.

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Published on July 02, 2014
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