Sheryl Sandberg Says Facebook Thought Cambridge Analytica "Data Had Been Deleted"

The social network's COO spoke with NBC News' Savannah Guthrie in an interview that aired on Friday's 'Today.'

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg continued the social network's apology tour as she spoke with NBC News' Savannah Guthrie for an interview that aired on Friday's Today show.

When asked why Facebook didn't address the alleged Cambridge Analytica data breach or even tell users that their information may have been improperly accessed when it first came to the company's attention in 2015, Sandberg said the tech giant "thought the data had been deleted."

"We had legal assurances from them that they deleted. What we didn't do is the next step of an audit, and we're trying to do that now," she said.

But she admitted the company should've dealt with the problem then and told users what happened.

When asked for a big-picture assessment of how this happened, Sandberg said the company wasn't "focused enough on protecting because that same data that you enable to use social experiences can also be misused."

She also conceded that there could be other data breaches in the future.

"We're doing an investigation, we're going to do audits and, yes, we think it's possible, that's why we're doing the audit," Sandberg said when asked if what happened with Cambridge Analytica could take place again.

"This week we announced we're shutting down some of the ways groups, events, pages, other parts of our product use data," she added. "Now, a lot of these have quite good use cases, but we're making a big shift here and it's a shift we're making to make sure that we are more protective."

As for whether users could opt out of Facebook using its personal profile data for targeted ads, Sandberg said, an "opt-out at the highest level … would be a paid product."

The social network has been working overtime to regain users' trust after it was reported that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica allegedly improperly accessed data on as many as 87 million Facebook users in an attempt to influence elections. Sandberg's NBC sit-down is just the latest public appearance from a Facebook executive in recent weeks. Both Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have apologized and participated in interviews with various media outlets, including a number of televised sit-downs, after the alleged data breach made headlines. Zuckerberg has also agreed to testify before a joint hearing of the Senate judiciary and commerce committees on April 10 and at a hearing of the House energy and commerce committee the next day (April 11). There is also a probe by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the European Union is considering what actions to take against the company.

The company has started a data-privacy audit in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica news. That search led Facebook to shut down a feature that lets people search for users by phone number or email address, with Zuckerberg claiming Wednesday that it learned through the audit that unscrupulous types were using that tool to collect individuals' personal data. He added that most of Facebook's 2.2 billion members probably had their personal information "scraped" by malicious actors.

The company has also been under scrutiny after Russians used Facebook and other social-media networks  to meddle in the 2016 elections.

Sandberg said the Cambridge Analytica incident ranks at the top of a scale from one to 10 in terms of crises involving users' personal information.

"We have a responsibility to protect people's data and we have a responsibility for people to know that they can trust using our services, so whether it happens to one person, whether it happens to a lot of people, whether it's on the front page on the newspaper or it just happens to one person that's always a 10," she said.