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Speech by Facebook COO points to firm's growing Washington presence

photo: Vogue May 2010

Fighting laryngitis, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg spoke Monday at the annual awards dinner for the Center for Democracy and Technology, an event affectionately known as Washington’s annual “tech prom.”

In an address that cemented Facebook’s growing presence in Washington, Sandberg talked about some of the tech policy issues swirling around the social networking giant.
She reaffirmed Facebook’s commitment to net neutrality and said that violators of intellectual property rights should be punished but that Internet service providers shouldn’t be required to police against such behavior. The US Trade Representive is working out a treaty on anti-counterfeiting that will address how to handle illegal downloads of music, movies and other intellecutal property.

To help high-tech companies stay competitive, she said immigration rules must be reformed to keep talent in the United States and attract skilled workers from overseas.

Sandberg didn't go deeply into one of the most controversial issues surrounding the company: privacy. Privacy advocates filed complaints to the Federal Trade Commission late last year after the firm changed privacy settings for users that may have caused confusion for some users and led them to open their pictures, status updates and profiles more broadly than wanted.

Facebook, which has been criticized for standing on the sidelines of online censorship, says it isn’t joining a coalition led by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and CDT because it has a smaller staff and isn’t able to dedicate resources to such issues. (Disclosure: Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham is on Facebook's board of directors.)

But in her speech, which was delivered in a raspy voice, Sandberg said her company and others should “support tools to give free speech” globally. And she called on the World Trade Organization to “push back on blocking that is anticompetitive.”

Facebook's office has expanded in recent months. It considers itself a startup, with 1,300 employees and just four years old. But with 400 million users, its become a digital nation state, with members around the world. Facebook recently hired Corey Owens of the United Food and Commercial Workers union to work on government affairs. Previously, he worked with policy director Tim Sparapani at the ACLU. Facebook, based in Palo Alto, Calif., now has a staff of four in Washington.

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 20, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
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