Facebook to Reorganize After Scrutiny Over Data Privacy

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook overhauled its structure on Tuesday into three new divisions and shuffled the leadership of its key products, in one of its biggest reorganizations.

The moves happened at the direction of Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said a person with knowledge of the changes, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss them. The reorganization was intended to streamline the company and clarify who oversees what after a long period of growth and numerous acquisitions, according to another person involved.

But the changes were accelerated after Facebook faced criticism recently for its lack of protections around user data, following revelations that the information of millions of its members had been harvested by a political consulting firm with ties to the Trump campaign, said one of the people. Mr. Zuckerberg was adamant about not firing any senior executives, despite pressure to make prominent changes, this person said.

Facebook told employees about the reorganization in an internal companywide memo on Tuesday. Recode earlier reported the changes, which were confirmed by a Facebook spokesman.

Facebook was born as a social network in 2004 to help connect people with one another. Over the years, it has become a more sprawling set of products through deals like the 2014 acquisition of messaging service WhatsApp for $19 billion. Many of the company’s divisions were allowed to operate with a certain degree of autonomy.

Facebook now plans to organize its product and engineering teams under three new categories, grouping its biggest moneymaking services together and separating them from its moonshot technologies.

One new group will focus on Facebook’s key products, including the social network itself, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, all of which generate the most revenue for the company. The second will concentrate on emerging technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence. The third will be centered on ads, personnel, security and growth.

Facebook’s key products group will be run by Chris Cox, its chief product officer. The emerging technologies division will be led by Mike Schroepfer, the chief technology officer. And Javier Olivan, a vice president of growth, will lead the final group.

Other executives are changing jobs as part of the shifts. WhatsApp, for instance, will now be led by Chris Daniels, a Facebook executive who was previously tasked with bringing new people online through a free or affordable version of Facebook called Internet.org.

The roles of the company’s top two leaders — Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer — remain unchanged. Ms. Sandberg’s business teams are unaffected by the restructuring.

The social network also said it was appointing Jeffrey Zients, a former director of the National Economic Council under former President Barack Obama, as a new board member.

Facebook’s changes echo some of the moves that Google announced in 2015, when it said it was dividing its core online advertising business from the rest of its businesses and created a holding company structure with the parent name of Alphabet. The change was part of an effort to keep Google nimble and innovative.

But Facebook’s reorganization has been complicated by the public outcry against the company. The company has been under scrutiny for the spread of misinformation through its site and how it was used by Russian agents during the 2016 presidential election to influence American voters. In March, The New York Times and The Observer of London reported that a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, had also misused the information of millions of Facebook users.

Some of these issues have prompted disagreements among Facebook executives, leading to several departures. The Times has reported that Alex Stamos, the chief information security officer, intends to leave Facebook. Last week, Jan Koum, a founder of WhatsApp and a Facebook board member, also said he was leaving the company.

The internal dissent hastened Mr. Zuckerberg’s changes, said one of the people with knowledge of the decisions. More recently, the chief executive has been trying to move the company forward, including at Facebook’s developer conference last week when he said the social network had a responsibility “to keep building in meaningful ways.

Ari Ratner, a former Obama administration official who now runs Inside Revolution, a strategic communications firm, said the restructuring would likely have little impact on the root issues that Facebook has been grappling with.

This “will have minimal impact on the issues themselves,” said Mr. Ratner. “If you want to send the message things will be different, I’m not sure if that accomplishes much.”

Under Facebook’s new emerging technologies group, Mr. Zuckerberg has also created a new team focused on blockchain, a digital ledger that underpins virtual currencies like Bitcoin. The group will be led by David Marcus, who had been overseeing Facebook Messenger, with the mandate of examining how Facebook can incorporate blockchain.

Over the last six months, three people who have had conversations with Mr. Zuckerberg said he wanted Facebook to aggressively pursue applications for blockchain across the company. Facebook employees have discussed whether blockchain could be used to secure transactions between people.

In a Facebook post, Mr. Marcus wrote, “I’m setting up a small group to explore how to best leverage Blockchain across Facebook, starting from scratch.”

Follow Sheera Frenkel on Twitter: @sheeraf

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.