Facebook reports Q4 profit, user growth despite challenges

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook had a strong fourth quarter, making more money on advertising and adding more users despite challenges around regulation, privacy and efforts to fight election interference.

Its profit and revenue both handily surpassed Wall Street’s expectations.

The company also said it settled a lawsuit filed in 2015 over its facial recognition practices and will pay USD550 million as a result. The suit alleged Facebook violated Illinois privacy regulations with a feature that suggested to users other people to tag in their photos. Facebook replaced the tag suggestion tool with a broader facial recognition setting last year.

Facebook said that about 2.89 billion people use at least one of its services — Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger — each month. About 2.26 billion people use at least one every day.

The Menlo Park, California, company said its main service had 2.5 billion monthly users at the end of the year, up eight per cent from a year earlier.

“This is a company that has shown that it can withstand ongoing criticism of its practices and yet still pull out gains in both revenue and users,” said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson.

Facebook is under growing regulatory scrutiny around the world. In the United States (US), it faces several government investigations for alleged anti-competitive behavior. Last August, it was fined USD5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations, the largest FTC fine ever for a tech company.

Amid ongoing criticism about how Facebook handles the private data of its users, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the company was shifting course for a more “privacy-focussed” future.

This includes emphasising small-group and private communication, though details are still scant.

It’s not clear if this privacy focus will mean anything for how ads on Facebook are targetted, which has always been among the chief concerns for privacy advocates.

File photo of attendees taking a selfie in front of a Facebook sign at F8, the Facebook’s developer conference in San Jose, California on April 30, 2019. PHOTO: AP