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The number of Facebook users — and the company’s stock price — rises despite massive data scandal

The Cambridge Analytica scandal apparently had little impact on the social media giant's overall outlook.

Facebook beat earning expectations this week, the same day it was reported the social media platform had added 70 million new users. The positive numbers come weeks after a major scandal involving mishandled Facebook user data. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Facebook beat earning expectations this week, the same day it was reported the social media platform had added 70 million new users. The positive numbers come weeks after a major scandal involving mishandled Facebook user data. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Facebook stock prices rose on Wednesday, after the social media giant announced in an earnings call it had added 70 million monthly users to its platform in the first three months of the year.

According to Axios, Facebook’s stock rose 3 percent in after-hours trading on Wednesday, hours after the company reported it had surpassed earnings expectations. Overall, Facebook reported first quarter earnings of $11.96 billion, up from $8.03 billion last year; earnings per share (EPS) rose from $1.04 billion to $1.69 billion.

Facebook also reported a 13 percent rise in daily active users — climbing to 1.45 billion — for March 2018, up from 1.40 billion in the month of December. It also reported a 13 percent rise in monthly users — 2.20 billion — as of March 31. In December 2017, that figure was 2.13 billion.

The quarterly report was a breath of fresh air for the beleaguered social media giant, which has faced mounting criticism in the past few weeks over its role in a massive and still unfolding scandal involving political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which ran data operations for President Trump’s campaign in 2016.

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Cambridge Analytica is alleged to have inappropriately acquired and mishandled the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users, capturing their information through a popular personality quiz. Although it was suggested that the firm may have used the data to target specific ads toward potential voters during its work for the Trump campaign, spokesman Clarence Mitchell claimed this week that the company decided not to use the information after realizing it was “ineffectual.”

“Cambridge Analytica’s research showed that the personality types licensed by the Kogan data underperformed when compared to more traditional ways of grouping people by demographics,” Mitchell said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Facebook eventually suspended Cambridge Analytica, after the data scandal came to light in mid-March. In the immediate aftermath, the company’s valuation plummeted by nearly $75 billion.

Since then, Facebook has come under fire for its response to the controversy, with top executives, including founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, facing exhaustive questioning in hearings convened by both chambers of Congress. But despite its initial promise to crack down on data abuse by third-party businesses such as Cambridge Analytica, and claims that it was “committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” the company has since made moves that suggest it may be less inclined to transparency and full cooperation than it has stated.

In an interview with CNN on March 21, for instance, Zuckerberg said that he welcomed government regulation on social media platforms — so long as it was the right kind.

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“I’m actually not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” he told senior technology correspondent Laurie Seagall. “You know, I think in general technology is an increasingly important trend in the world and I actually think the question is more what’s the right regulation rather than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ should it be regulated.”

As ThinkProgress previously reported, Facebook could face steep fines and lose out on millions if more stringent regulations are put in place. In Europe, the site has already faced similar financial penalties: just this past September, Facebook was fined €1.2m by Spanish authorities for “collecting, storing and using data, including specially protected data, for advertising purposes without obtaining consent,” according to the Financial Times.

Facebook has also attempted to shift the responsibility for its international users — anyone not located in the United states or Canada — to its headquarters in California, from its overseas office in Ireland. Its motivation: the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a new piece of legislation by the European Union that forces tech and social media companies to change the way they collect data from users and requires those companies to delete all the data it has on someone if the individual asks. If a company is found in violation of those rules, it could face billions of dollars in fines.

Notably, the GDRP, which goes into effect on May 25, has jurisdiction in Ireland, but not in California.

Zuckerberg previously said he supported the new regulation “in spirit,” and noted that the social media giant had added privacy settings for all users worldwide that complied with the EU rule.