Jan 30, 2020

Facebook's decade of unstoppable growth

Despite an onslaught of scrutiny and scandal over the past few years, Facebook closed out the second decade of the millennium stronger than ever.

The big picture: The tech giant brought in nearly $70 billion in revenue for 2019, up more than 25% from the year prior and up more than 1300% from 2012, the year it went public.

Data: Company filings; Chart: Axios Visuals

Why it matters: Facebook's continued ability to post double-digit revenue growth every year speaks to how well it has been able to innovate and adapt, even in the face of regulatory headwinds and increased competition.

  • Case in point: Even in regions like North America and Europe, where the company's user growth has plateaued and privacy regulation has been introduced, Facebook has still managed to squeeze significantly more money out of each user every year.
  • In the U.S. and Canada, Facebook has increased its user base by less than 4% in the past two years — but it has increased its revenue per user there by more than 60%.

Driving the news: Facebook said Wednesday on its fourth quarter earnings call that it settled a class-action privacy-violation lawsuit by Illinois residents for $550 million. The news comes just months after Facebook settled a suit by the Federal Trade Commission with a $5 billion privacy fine — the largest such penalty in U.S. history.

  • For the past several quarters, Facebook has warned investors that it expects revenue headwinds in light of increased regulatory scrutiny, particularly around privacy and targeted advertising. But so far these fines have proven moot in getting the tech giant to fundamentally change its business, which continues to grow substantially.

Be smart: Facebook has kept itself growing in recent years by getting more creative about advertising formats and products, while not budging from its core principles of free speech and accessibility to its advertising tools.

  • Facebook says it will still let politicians lie in ads, and it will still allow political advertisers to micro-target ads, even though its competitors have taken more cautious approaches.
  • For a long time, Facebook's fastest-growing ad product was ads in its News Feed. Facebook now says that 4 million advertisers use its "Stories" advertising format to message to consumers. It says "click to message" ads, which lead consumers to direct messaging conversations with brands, are its fastest-growing ad product right now.

The bottom line: Facebook recognizes that there's a gulf between its prodigious growth and its beleaguered reputation. On an investor call following Facebook's earnings report Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that over the next decade, his goal was to close that gap by being more transparent about Facebook's values.

"We're focused on communicating more clearly about what we stand for. One critique of our approach for much of the last decade is that because we wanted to be liked, we didn't want to communicate our views as clearly, because we worried about offending people.... Our goal for the next decade isn't to be liked, but understood. In order to be trusted, people need to know what we stand for."
— Zuckerberg

Go deeper

Privacy group says Facebook isn't sharing all off-platform data with users

Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

Facebook is now offering users a feature that lets them see what data it has collected about their activities beyond Facebook, but a new report from Privacy International says that not all the advertisers that have uploaded individual user data to Facebook are included.

Why it matters: As the report notes, without more complete information, it is hard for users to fully exercise their rights under the EU's GDPR and other privacy laws.

Europe nixes Facebook's plea for friendly rules

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook is doubling down on its big pitch to lawmakers across the globe: regulate us.

Yes, but: Key regulators aren't buying it. Hours after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with lawmakers in Europe to discuss the company's new proposals for regulation, a French commissioner overseeing the EU's data strategy rejected the plan, saying "It’s not enough. It’s too slow, it’s too low in terms of responsibility and regulation."

Scoop: Inside the Trump campaign's big hedge on Facebook

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Trump campaign has invested most of its advertising budget to date on Facebook, testing thousands of versions of ads per day to maximize its spending.

But behind the scenes, a source familiar with the campaign tells Axios, the thinking has shifted: "As everyone can see, we still have strong spending on Facebook, but the percentage of our total media budget [on Facebook] is shrinking."