Facebook traded users’ data internal docs reveal

A British lawmaker has released 250 pages worth of internal Facebook documents, which reveal how Facebook’s chief and deputies gave companies access to users’ data for revenue gains, according to documents published by the UK Parliament.

Parliament’s media committee seized the documents from American software developer, Six4Three, last month, which were held under seal as part of an on-going court case against Facebook. The internal emails were released by Damian Collins, a British Member of Parliament and the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee that’s investigating Facebook.

In the emails released, Facebook staff, including the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, discussed trading data for revenue with companies like Netflix, Airbnb, and Lyft.

“Facebook has clearly entered into whitelisting agreements with certain companies, which meant that after the platform changes in 2014/15 they maintained full access to friends’ data,” Collins wrote in the report. “It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not.”

Facebook data tactics

The documents also revealed that Facebook decided to end access for certain companies, which, as a result, contributed to a business’s failure.

“The files show evidence of Facebook taking aggressive positions against apps, with the consequence that denying them access to data led to the failure of that business.

“It is clear that increasing revenues from major app developers was one of the key drivers behind the Platform 3.0 changes at Facebook,” Collins added. “The idea of linking access to friends’ data to the financial value of the developers’ relationship with Facebook is a recurring feature of the documents.”

The emails also show Facebook discussing how to use access to user data to obtain get concessions such as higher advertising spend form clients.

In one email, Zuckerberg said: “Sometimes the best way to enable people to share something is to have a developer build a special purpose app or network for that type of content and to make that app social by having Facebook plug into it.

“However, that may be good for the world but it’s not good for us unless people also share back to Facebook and that content increases the value of our network. So, ultimately, I think the purpose of the platform – even the read side – is to increase sharing back into Facebook.”

Facebook’s response

Facebook responded immediately to the recently published documents, saying the release was “misleading”.

“The documents Six4Three gathered for their baseless case are only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context,” the statement said.

“We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends’ data with developers. Like any business, we had many internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform. But the facts are clear: we’ve never sold people’s data.”

Mr. Zuckerberg also posted a response on his Facebook page.

“I understand there is a lot of scrutiny on how we run our systems. That’s healthy given the vast number of people who use our services around the world, and it is right that we are constantly asked to explain what we do,” he said. “But it’s also important that the coverage of what we do – including the explanation of these internal documents – doesn’t misrepresent our actions or motives.”

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