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Facebook Boasts More Users Than Population of China


FILE - Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through glasses held by a woman.

FILE - Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through glasses held by a woman.

The social network Facebook reported this week in its 2015 first quarter financial report that it now has 1.44 billion monthly active users, or MAUs, worldwide. That’s 50 million more users than the entire estimated population of China, and over 188 million more users than India’s population.

Facebook also reported that MAUs accessing the site via mobile devices jumped by as much as 24 percent over last year, to an estimated 1.25 billion users as of March 2015.

Interestingly, despite Facebook’s growing user base and accessibility via mobile phones and tablets, the company’s income from operations dipped by 13 percent over year-ago levels to $933 million.

That’s likely a result of several factors, analysts say.

Over the last year Facebook has been adding a host of new products, or apps, for its users. These include Facebook’s acquisition of the photo-sharing Instagram app, the launch of its stand-alone “Messenger” that allows users to communicate directly with each other, and an aggressive push to host video content, aimed at chipping away at rival Google’s video dominance via YouTube.

Additionally, more than half of Facebook’s revenue comes from nations other than the United States, for example Indonesia, where it’s very popular. The recent rise in the value of the U.S. dollar may have cut into Facebook’s overall revenue and profitability.

In a statement to the media, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg called the report “a good quarter and a good start to the year.”

“We’re building this family of apps because we want people to be able to share whatever they want,” Zuckerberg said. “We expect people to share richer content with increasing frequency, so we want to continue developing new tools and facilitating this expression.”

Facebook launched to the public in December 2004, and experienced relatively slow user growth for its first four years.

Social media strategist Ben Foster calculates that by April of 2009, it had approximately 200 million users. But a little more than two years later, in June of 2011, it reported 750 million users. According to Foster’s calculations, that level of explosive growth has continued nearly unabated ever since.

“The strong growth in Mobile MAUs tells me that Facebook is becoming the first thing people go to on their mobile device,” Foster told VOA via email. “If this trend continues, Facebook could easily become the primary source of traffic for publishers and companies. This could change the digital landscape for content as the content we prefer to consume on mobile is quite different than content we prefer on a browser.”

Much of Facebook’s revenue comes from sales of ads that are tailored specifically for each user, based on that user’s previous Facebook activities, friend lists, likes, and content they’ve posted, among other factors. Ads pushed to mobile devices now account for 73 percent of Facebook’s total ad revenue.

According to the Facebook terms of service agreement, the social network claims license to use posted data such as images and the like for their purposes worldwide. That’s lead some privacy activists to worry that Facebook is claiming a copyright for material created and posted by its users.

However, as Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld pointed out earlier to VOA, the legal claim of “license” granted by the user is not Facebook’s assertion of copyright.

“When you post content on Facebook, or any information, you own that content,” Steinfeld said. “We have to have your legal permission to share that content. You retain ownership of that. So if you delete that content, we delete it from our servers and we have no rights to it beyond that point.”

Facebook still faces several legal challenges regarding its user’s privacy and data retention. Earlier this year in March, the European Court of Justice – the EU’s highest-such court – heard a case brought by an Irish complaint that Facebook allegedly collected and passed along data from European users to the U.S. National Security Agency’s “PRISM” program, violating EU privacy protections.

But analyst Foster says that despite privacy concerns, and some users’ claims to hate Facebook, the numbers suggest people actually like the product, and the number of users will grow.

“For Facebook's reach, if they are the best at delivering content, then they will continue to get more users which will continue the cycle,” he said.

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    Doug Bernard

    Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

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