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Sheryl Sandberg’s Legacy Is an Internet of Targeted, Automated Ads

As a Google executive and then as Mark Zuckerberg’s counterpart at Facebook, she helped create the model that—for better or worse—has become Silicon Valley’s default.
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When she announced her resignation as chief operating officer of Meta Platforms Inc. on June 1, Sheryl Sandberg posted an essay celebrating her long partnership with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and recounting her achievements there since 2008. She brought up Lean In, of course, and the company’s 3 billion users, but barely alluded to her most important contribution to the business of technology.

When discussing her first meeting with Zuckerberg at a party in 2007, Sandberg wrote that she was familiar with “The Facebook” at the time, but she also “still thought the internet was a largely anonymous place to search for funny pictures.” This account, if true, represents an almost criminal understatement of Sandberg’s own achievements to that point. When she began talking with Zuckerberg, Sandberg wasn’t some internet neophyte; she was an executive at Google and the architect of the changes that would transform it into the biggest and most important internet company in history. Within a few months she would join Facebook and bring the same vision to the social network.