Another week, another chapter in Facebook's (FB) never-ending privacy saga.
Cambridge Analytica. Sketchy data-sharing deals with Huawei. A breach of 120 million user accounts. Now, a widening government probe by the SEC, FBI, FTC and the DOJ investigating whether Facebook's recent disclosures about its use of user data, including Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before Congress, were accurate and timely.
For now, investors are reacting with a collective yawn.
After sliding 2.3% on Tuesday following a Washington Post report about the widening investigation, Facebook shares recovered their losses and then some on Thursday. BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield even jacked up his price target for Facebook to $275, writing in a note that users "simply could not care less" about the constant drumbeat of privacy scandals.
And if users don't care, neither do advertisers -- nor Wall Street.
"The fact is that most people who post on Facebook do so voluntarily and expect their posts to be seen," says Michael Pachter of Wedbush, adding that the 'creep' factor in Facebook's data breaches has been minimal enough to keep users from bailing en masse. "Rather, it's been corporate or political use, and most people aren't offended if a mobile carrier, car manufacturer or political party knows their preferences."
Despite Facebook's scandal-plagued news feed and data-sharing partnerships, its popular photo-sharing app, Instagram, continues to flourish. The app announced recently that it passed one billion monthly users, and rolled out a new video service, IGTV. The research firm eMarketer estimated Instagram's 2019 advertising revenue at $1.9 billion, and that's poised to grow as the app continues to gain eyeballs across the world.
"I think any of the potential advertising speed bumps that they've seen on the platform post-Cambridge are neutralized by the significant strength of Instagram," adds Daniel Ives of GBH. "It's the crown jewel on the platform, and it's been a savior for them -- especially demographically, with millennials and teens that have gone off Facebook."
As Instagram grows, Facebook will reap advertising revenue with none of the undercurrent of mistrust around Facebook's main product. How? It's simple: Many Instagram users don't even realize it's owned by Facebook, Pachter adds.
"Instagram is largely insulated from all of this, and many people are unaware that they are owned by Facebook, so even people abandoning Facebook will remain customers if they use Instagram," Pachter says.