June 02, 2022

If you haven't seen the 1985 Anthony Edwards film "Gotcha!", I highly recommend it: Classic '80s Cold War spy film with a little spoofiness built in. The only challenge is finding it — I had to get the DVD.

🔍 Situational awareness: Google's cancelation of a talk on caste bias has led to some internal division and a resignation from a senior manager, according to the Washington Post.

Today's newsletter is 1,204 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Sheryl Sandberg's advertising jackpot

Global ad spend, by mediums and companies
Data: Zenith, Google, Facebook; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Sheryl Sandberg grew Meta's revenue from $272 million in 2008 to nearly $118 billion in 2021. That's over 43,000%, Axios' Sara Fischer writes.

Why it matters: Depending on who you ask, the corporate growth story she's responsible for is one of the most impressive in history — or one of the most reckless.

Catch up quick: Sandberg announced Wednesday that she'd leave the company she joined in 2008. Before Facebook, she'd spent seven years building Google's nascent search advertising business.

  • At the time, the ad industry was only beginning to understand the power and potential of bringing small businesses and data into online marketing.
  • Big brands and big media dominated the pre-digital ad world and tried to replicate their cozy business in the early days of digital.

Sandberg changed that status quo.

  • In her 14 years at Meta, Sandberg oversaw hundreds of initiatives that would eventually create the modern advertising ecosystem — a world built on small businesses being able to target nearly any customer globally via user data.
  • Sandberg's intense focus on scale and measurable outcomes for advertisers led to Facebook's massive success and became the envy of Silicon Valley.
  • Soon after Facebook proved in 2012 that it could replicate its success on desktop for mobile, hundreds of apps began to copy Facebook's model.

Few rivals would ever catch up. Sandberg's experience in Washington and Harvard Business School acumen helped her identify a problem that most Silicon Valley innovators were too preoccupied to notice existed: education for advertising clients.

  • Sandberg spent years building programs and teams to teach advertisers of all sizes, from massive corporations to tiny mom-and-pop shops, about how to use its platform efficiently.

Yes, but: In the past few years, the innovations in ad targeting that power the massive digital economy Sandberg helped create have turned into a serious liability for Meta and its rivals, too.

  • A series of data privacy scandals, most notably Meta's Cambridge Analytica debacle, has made regulators and consumers wary of targeted ads. Meanwhile, growing polarization has pitted tech platforms against political groups skeptical of the Silicon Valley giant's intentions.

What's next: For Sandberg, stepping away from Meta as it moves into its next phase preserves her legacy as one of history's shrewdest business leaders.

  • She leaves as the company begins a years-long pivot from mobile to the metaverse — a transition that leaders acknowledge will be challenging, given the company's growing trust gap.
  • She also leaves while Meta's business is still booming. The threat of new regulations and stronger competition are making it less certain than ever that the company can maintain momentum.

2. Axios interview: Sandberg on the future

After more than two decades as a ruler of Silicon Valley, Sandberg told Axios' Mike Allen it's getting harder to predict where tech is headed. The trends, she said, will hit "deeper and more quickly than we think."

  • "I don't know those future trends," she said.

Why it matters: Sandberg's planned departure this fall as Meta COO, announced yesterday, comes amid a global reckoning around ways technology can be used for evil, as well as good.

When Mike asked Sandberg what she had learned, she struck a more humble note than we're used to hearing from tech executives:

  • "In technology, we can't really predict what will happen and how quickly trends will move," she said in a phone interview, minutes after posting her departure plans on Facebook. "Trends happen really quickly. The mobile transition took us by storm and by surprise."
  • "Every technology can be used for bad as well as good," she added. "So you have to build systems early on to protect against harm. Everything we learned from the family of apps [Facebook and Instagram], we're building into the metaverse from the beginning."

She said she sees an "incredibly bright" future for Meta, where she'll remain on the board.

  • "I believe as deeply in Mark as ever," she said.

Sandberg — who went to Silicon Valley after serving as Treasury Department chief of staff during the Clinton administration — said she'll focus "more on my foundation and philanthropic work, which is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women."

What we're hearing: Friends expect her to focus on philanthropy, likely running some mission-driven organization. Then they can imagine her serving in government or running for office.

Sandberg made women's empowerment her signature issue with her bestseller, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead."

  • Sandberg said her three daughters should have the same opportunities as her two sons: "No one should tell them they can't do it all."

3. Musk pooh-poohs remote work

Photo: Patrick Pleul/AFP via Getty Images

Tesla employees "should pretend to work somewhere else" if they're not willing to return to their offices, CEO Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday.

Why it matters: Many companies nationwide have embraced remote work policies, while others are pushing for employees to come back into the office, Axios' Herb Scribner reports. It also comes as Musk is in the process of buying Twitter, which was among the first big tech companies to say that workers could work remote permanently.

Driving the news: "Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers," Musk wrote in a leaked memo to staff, per Bloomberg.

The intrigue: Musk has made a bid to buy Twitter, which currently has a different remote work policy.

  • Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal said in March that Twitter's office would reopen but employees can still work remotely if they want.

4. Groups urge FTC to investigate FIFA video game

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A coalition of child advocacy groups want the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Electronic Arts, warning the agency in a complaint Thursday that its popular FIFA video game exploits children and teens, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

What's happening: 15 groups, including Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy, told the FTC that the game's use of loot boxes (boxes containing randomized virtual content, which can be bought with real money) exploits children by promising a competitive advantage and obscures the real cost with virtual currency.

  • The coalition wants the agency to investigate whether EA is engaging in unfair and deceptive practices in the design of the loot boxes.

How it works: Players of FIFA’s Ultimate Team, a competitive online mode in the FIFA game obtain the loot boxes — which contain player cards, team kits or badges — by spending real-world money on virtual currency or building up virtual currency through gameplay.

State of play: EA is already facing headwinds in Europe over the use of loot boxes to get a leg-up in the game, and the FTC has signaled the issue is on its radar as well.

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Check out this fossil from an ancient era, well, ancient to my 9-year-old.