Facebook has become one of the definitive icons of the modern digital age, a virtual embodiment of the human potential of the internet as a tool for interpersonal communication and information sharing. It is also something of a fairy tale in which a computer nerd with limited interpersonal skills of his own became one of the world's richest individuals before he was 30 by ruthlessly pursuing his own vision and then cashing in with what was then the biggest technology IPO of all-time. In this fairy tale, Facebook's creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is arguably the hero and the villain combined, certainly according to his many detractors, and for a while it was far from clear yet just how happy the ending of this story would be. Even with its vast audience, which first topped 1bn monthly active users in Oct 2012, Facebook's ability to justify its sky-high $100bn-plus valuation seemed untested, and there were distinct wobbles in the first months following the site's IPO, not least after the company paid $1bn to buy Instagram, a service with virtually no revenues. Yet Facebook has gradually won over most sceptics (despite the even more astronomical $22bn purchase of Whatsapp). It managed to accumulate an extraordinary #2 position in mobile advertising (behind Google) in little more than a year, and its overall sales growth appears to justify all those original expectations. However, life turned rather more challenging during 2017 and especially in 2018 as a result of a string of negative headlines over misuse of user data, privacy infringement, and the site's infiltration by fake accounts set up to manipulate political sentiment. Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg spent much of the year fighting multiple political and ethical fires around the world. Yet that seemed to have only minimal impact on Facebook's financial performance. For 2018, revenues jumped by another 37% to $55.8bn, while net income soared 39% to $22.1bn. There has been a marked slowdown in user growth, especially in developed markets, but advertising revenues continue to soar.
Capsule checked 21st September 2018
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Adbrands Daily Update 11th Feb 2019: Deeply depressing news for most digital publishers this week in a new report from adtech consultancy Polar. Just the top seven leading digital platforms will rake in 80% of all online ad spend in 2019, leaving other publishers to squabble over the measly remaining scraps. The top seven's combined take of the $300bn-plus market will grow by 20% this year, while the share left for everyone else will fall by at least 11%, or by as much as 23% if the big seven continue to grow at their current rate. Google alone accounted for 43% of all advertising revenues in 2018, or $115bn; and Facebook for another 20% or $54bn. Another 12% was split between Amazon (4%), Microsoft (3%), Verizon (3%), Twitter (1%) and Snap (1%). That left $67bn for everyone else in 2018. It could fall in 2019 to as little as $52bn.
Adbrands Daily Update 31st Jan 2019: Facebook shrugged off a year of negative headlines and privacy investigations with record quarterly profits in 4Q and a 30% jump in revenues, well ahead of analysts' expectations. Full year revenues jumped 37% to $55.8bn, with net income up 39% to $22.1bn. For Dec 2018, daily and monthly active user numbers both rose 9% year on year. The company estimates that 2bn people worldwide use at least one of Facebook's four main services of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger every day, and 2.7bn people at least once a month.
Adbrands Weekly Update 1st Nov 2018: Technology stars Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook all posted strong profit growth in 3Q but suffered slowdowns in revenues, prompting further falls in their already beleaguered stock prices, which have been in steep decline over the past month following record highs in the summer. Facebook had already warned of slowing growth when it released its 2Q figures, prompting a dramatic plunge in its share price in July. As a result, analysts were prepared for the latest numbers. Revenues reached a new high of $13.7bn, up 33%, but that was slightly less than forecast and the lowest percentage increase for six years. Net income rose 9% to $5.1bn, the slowest growth rate since 2015. Total daily active users edged up to a little under 1.5bn, but all growth came from from Asia Pacific and "Rest of the World" markets. Daily users in Europe fell for the second consecutive quarter, while US users were flat. Mark Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook "may be close to saturated in developed markets".
Adbrands Weekly Update 18th Oct 2018: Facebook revealed further details of its mammoth recent data hack. A bit of good news was that only 29m users were directly affected rather than the 50m originally estimated. However, around 14m of those users were victims of an unusually intimate data haul, in which their names, contact information, relationship status, religion, birth date, check-in locations and recent searches were all stolen. Another 15m had only their names and contact information taken. The breach is still under investigation to determine possible motives for the attack or its perpetrators. However, current indications are that no foreign state was involved. The attack seems to have been conducted by an organisation of spammers already known to Facebook's security team.
Adbrands Weekly Update 4th Oct 2018: Facebook said it had discovered a security flaw that allowed hackers to access up to 50m user accounts. The attack was extremely sophisticated, using a loophole in the option that allows users to view their profiles as other people see them. Hackers were able to steal copies of the digital keys that gave them the same access to the accounts as their legitimate owners. It's still not clear what the motivation was for the theft, or who committed it. Users' posts don't seem to have been tampered with, and there was no access to banking or password information.
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