Documents show Facebook gave preferential access to data to certain companies

Minnie Murray
December 6, 2018

Mr Collins alleged that Facebook maintained "whitelisting agreements" which gave select companies preferential access to valuable user data.

Facebook wielded user data like a bargaining chip, providing access when that sharing might encourage people to spend more time on the social network - and imposing strict limits on partners in cases where it saw a potential competitive threat, emails show.

The British Parliament has released some 250 pages worth of documents that show Facebook considered charging developers for data access.

Vine wanted to use Facebook's user data to suggest friends on the service, but after a Facebook executive asked CEO Mark Zuckerberg via email if he could shut this feature down, Zuckerberg replied, "Yup, go for it".

In terms of suffocating rivals, Mr Collins wrote: "The files show evidence of Facebook taking aggressive positions against apps, with the outcome that denying them access to data led to the failure of that business". Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said in a statement.

Not all of the documents seized by the committee investigating fake news have been published.

The release of the internal documents adds to Facebook's challenges as it wrestles with issues as varied as how it enabled the spread of misinformation and whether it properly safeguarded the data of its users.

The report claims that Facebook whitelisted "certain companies" with full access to friends data, despite platform changes in 2014/15.

The documents' publication coincides with a more hawkish shift in public opinion toward online collection of user data, prompted partly by revelations this year of how the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica misused Facebook users' information.

"Without limiting distribution or access to friends who use this app, I don't think we have any way to get developers to pay us at all besides offering payments and ad networks", Mr Zuckerberg said in a 2012 e-mail.

"After a thorough review in 2018, it became clear that the information is not as useful after about a year", the spokesperson said.

"However, that may be good for the world", Zuckerberg added", but it's not good for us unless people also share back to Facebook and that content increases the value of our social network".

The documents were brought to light by United States software company Six4Three, which were gathered as part of a legal case against the social network.

"Sometimes the best way to enable people to share something is to have a developer build a special goal app or network for that type of content and to make that app social by having Facebook plug into it", Zuckerberg wrote in 2012.

"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", Collins said. The company limited app developer access to lists of friends, other than those also using the same app, in most cases, according to the statement.

As for the DCMS's assertions regarding how the company's "reciprocity" provision and its Onavo VPN app dealt with user data, Facebook points out that users "had the choice" as to whether or not they would opt in and share their data.

The documents had been sealed by a California court. "We still stand by the platform changes we made in 2014/2015, which prevented people from sharing their friends' information with developers like the creators of Pikinis", the company says in the post.

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