Facebook Made $800M in 2009, Suggests Report

Facebook apparently earned as much as $800 million in 2009, according to unnamed sources quoted by Reuters. That would be a sizable increase over the $500 million estimated by entrepreneur and Facebook board member Marc Andreessen in 2009. While Facebook's user base has increased over the past year, so too have concerns about its privacy policy and how it shares users' information with third-party companies. Facebook has responded to privacy advocates' concerns by insisting that user privacy is a prime concern.

Who knew that providing a place for uploading vacation photos and YouTube links could be so profitable? Facebook apparently earned as much as $800 million in 2009, according to two unnamed sources quoted by Reuters. Despite pressure from outside investors to launch an IPO, the social-networking site has remained privately held.

That $800 million represents a marked increase from earlier estimates, which included Facebook board member Marc Andreessen suggesting the company would make $500 million in 2009. "There's every reason to expect in my view that the thing can be doing billions in revenue five years from now," the entrepreneur and Netscape founder told Reuters at the time.

While the number of Facebook users has only increased over the past year, so too have concerns about its privacy policy and use of users' information. On June 16, privacy advocates sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, detailing a six-point plan to give the social-networking site's users more control over their personal information. The concerns included "empowering users to decide exactly which applications can access their personal information." Those advocates, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, called on Facebook to "demonstrate [its] commitment to the principle of giving users control over how and with whom they share."

Facebook retorted with an open letter to that open letter, stating, "We plan to continue to make control easy and effective for all the people who use our service and will continue to engage those groups and others in a constructive dialogue about these important issues." Refuting the advocates' issues point-by-point, Facebook tried to portray the more controversial portions of its service, including the "instant personalization" feature that provides user information to partners such as Pandora, as "widely misunderstood."

Facebook's missive also mentions "a new data permission model" that is "scheduled to launch to all developers in the coming weeks," and points out an option to "completely turn off Platform applications and Websites, so that none of [users'] information is ever shared with applications, even information otherwise available to everyone."

Privacy concerns related to social networking will likely increase in coming years, as more and more users gravitate toward such services. According to new data from Nielsen, Internet users spent some 22 percent of their online time on networks such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The average visitor apparently spent almost 6 hours on such sites in April, compared to 3 hours, 31 minutes in April 2009. Facebook greatly outpaced other services, in terms of occupying users' social-networking time online.