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Byers Market

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg defends her company and her reputation in wide-ranging interview

EXCLUSIVE: "I'm a demanding boss, and I'm a tough boss. I think I'm a very fair boss. But I'm demanding," Sandberg says in the debut episode of NBC News' "Byers Market" podcast.
Dylan Byers sits down for an interview with COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg.
NBC News senior media reporter Dylan Byers interviews Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, on the "Byers Market" podcast, which made its debut Thursday.Jonaki Mehta

MENLO PARK, Calif. — In her first interview since the publication of Steven Levy's "Facebook: The Inside Story," Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg defended herself against claims in the book that she's overly controlling, obsessed with her public image and prone to yelling at her employees.

"I'm a demanding boss, and I'm a tough boss. I think I'm a very fair boss. But I'm demanding," Sandberg said in an interview with "Byers Market," the new NBC News podcast that made its debut Thursday.

In the 50-minute conversation, recorded at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Sandberg also weighed in on her relationship with Mark Zuckerberg, addressed the damage that's been done to her public image — and whether she can rectify it — and said she was committed to staying at the social media giant for the long term.

"I wish so much that the world could see the Mark I know," Sandberg said. "Mark is an enormously, enormously talented guy. He has a great product sense. ... People think he doesn't understand people. That's just clearly wrong.

"We don't spend that much time worrying about our public image," she added. "The issue is not what people think of me or Mark personally. The issue is how are we doing as a company? How do we provide a great service, and how do we prevent some of the harm?"

Sandberg also offered her most robust defense to date of Facebook's business model and its vast collection of personal data, which she said was necessary to offer users a better content and advertising experience.

"There is growing concern, which is based on a lack of understanding, that we are using people's information in a bad way. We are selling it. We are giving it away. We are violating it. None of that's true. We do not sell data," she said. "Here's what we do: We take your information and we show you personalized ads ... [to give you] a much better experience."

Sandberg also revealed that she will be defending the company's business model in a speech later this year. The move to publicly embrace Facebook’s collection of user data marks a shift for a company that has historically downplayed the extent of its data collection practices.

"This is actually one of the most important things I want to do this year," Sandberg said. "I'm going to give a big speech next month. And I'm working on an op-ed. We need to go out and explain the business model clearly."

Sandberg defended Facebook's decision not to fact-check political advertising and talked about its efforts to combat Russian election meddling.

She also addressed a major recent development in her personal life: her engagement to her boyfriend, Tom Bernthal. And she talked at length about overcoming her grief after the loss of her late husband, Dave Goldberg, in 2015.