Facebook's D.C. office focuses on privacy

One year after opening an office in D.C., Facebook's growing public policy team is focused on one issue above all else: privacy.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes sat down with Hillicon Valley on Wednesday to update us on the social media giant's growing presence inside the Beltway. Noyes made it clear privacy issues and education dominate the team's agenda.

"Ninety percent of our day is focused on privacy in one way or another," Noyes said. He said the rest of the time is spent educating lawmakers, candidates and government officials about how they can better make use of the popular social networking site.

Noyes left a promising reporting career to become Facebook's spokesman last fall, joining associate manager for public policy Adam Conner and director of public policy Tim Sparapani in Facebook's D.C. office, which previously served as the production office for the television series "West Wing." 

"It definitely has a start-up feel," Noyes said of the team's DuPont digs. "As ubiquitous as our brand is, we're still small in Washington and focused on education."

Formerly a prominent privacy advocate as senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, Sparapani's decision to join Facebook in the spring of 2009 raised some eyebrows in the Beltway technology community. He now serves as the firm's chief lobbyist and leads the D.C. office. Conner joined Facebook in 2007 and serves as the firm's chief evangelist in Washington, where he helps lawmakers, candidates, agencies and other organizations leverage Facebook for their own purposes.

Policy analyst Corey Owens and two summer interns round out the staff, though Facebook announced that White House staffer Marne Levine will be joining them later this month to coordinate the firm's interactions with foreign governments and international non-profits. 

Levine "is going to probably spend a lot of her life on an airplane," Noyes said.

One example of how the team is attempting to push out their message is the media campaign to publicize recent changes to Facebook's privacy settings. Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg also published a blog post Tuesday attempting to dispel some of the confusion surrounding how Facebook targets advertisements. Noyes said many users falsely believe Facebook allows companies to access their profile information, when in actuality the company prevents marketers from doing so.

"We have designed Facebook to provide relevant and interesting advertising content to you in a way that protects your privacy completely," Sandberg writes. "We never share your personal information with advertisers. We never sell your personal information to anyone. These protections are yours no matter what privacy settings you use; they apply equally to people who share openly with everyone and to people who share with only select friends."

Instead, Noyes said advertisers tell Facebook what types of users they want to reach and the site in turn targets ads to the appropriate users without revealing any personal information to advertisers. Facebook also provides aggregated and anonymous data on how many clicks an ad received, but, again, no personally identifiable information is used.

"We have built — and are continuing to grow — a successful advertising business that gives you the opportunity to discover and connect to things you like while respecting your privacy no matter how you choose to share your information," Sandberg writes.

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