(Reuters) – Facebook Thursday warned of a tougher year 2021, although analysts’ estimates for quarterly revenue were exceeded as companies preparing for the global coronavirus pandemic continued to rely on the company’s digital advertising tools. The world’s largest social media company stated in its outlook that it faces “significant uncertainties”, citing upcoming data protection changes by Apple and a possible reversal of the pandemic-triggered switch to online retailing.

“Given that e-commerce is our largest advertising industry, a change in this trend could serve as a headwind to our ad revenue growth in 2021,” the report said. The company’s shares were unchanged in expanded trading.

Facebook’s and Google and Amazon’s financial results show how resilient tech giants have been despite the pandemic devastating other parts of the economy. The success has earned them additional exposure in Washington, where the companies are facing multiple antitrust investigations. Facebook’s total revenue, which consists primarily of ad sales, rose 22% to $ 21.47 billion from $ 17.65 billion in the third quarter ended September 30, beating analysts’ estimates, according to IBES data from Refinitiv of an increase of 12%.

An ad boycott in July of Facebook’s handling of hate speech that paused some of the social media giant’s biggest single editions in the press barely hurt revenue, which comes mostly from small businesses. Revenue growth at Facebook, the world’s second largest provider of online ads after Google, has steadily cooled as business matures, although it was more than 20% in 2019.

However, compared to expectations, the company had a bumpy year as the usage of its platforms by users stuck at home spiked due to virus-induced bans that dampened online ad sales despite the more general economic activity. Facebook continued to expand its user base. Monthly active users rose to 2.74 billion, compared to estimates of 2.70 billion based on IBES data, although user numbers in North America declined compared to the second quarter. The company forecast the trend will continue for the rest of the year, with user numbers either flat or slightly lower in the fourth quarter compared to the third quarter. “It seems that investors are disappointed that despite the surge in user growth in most regions during the quarter, the social media platform saw a decline in users in North America, which covers the US and Canada – the most lucrative ad market,” said Jesse Cohen. Senior Analyst at Investing.com.

Total costs rose 28% to $ 13.43 billion, with costs rising as Facebook tries to quell criticism that it is lax with user privacy and abusive content. The company was under particularly heavy pressure ahead of the US presidential election next week and is trying to avoid a repeat of 2016 when Russia used its platforms to spread election-related misinformation.

EMarketer’s lead analyst Debra Aho Williamson said that despite its content moderation issues, Facebook remains a focal point for advertisers looking to reach a wide range of consumers. However, this could change in 2021. “We think more advertisers will have a hard time looking at their reliance on Facebook and you’ll wonder if the environment is safe for their brands,” she said.

Net income was $ 7.85 billion, or $ 2.71 per share, compared to $ 6.09 billion or $ 2.12 per share last year. According to IBES data from Refinitiv, analysts had expected earnings of USD 1.90 per share.

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