Facebook gave data on user’s friends to certain companies – documents

FILE PHOTO: Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg
speaks at the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in
Paris, France, May 24, 2018. Charles Platiau,
Reuters

BENGALURU/SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook Inc let some companies,
including Netflix and Airbnb, access users’ lists of friends
after it cut off that data for most other apps around 2015,
according to documents released on Wednesday by a British
lawmaker investigating fake news and social media.

The 223 pages of internal communication from 2012 to 2015
between high-level employees, including founder and Chief
Executive Mark Zuckerberg, provide new evidence of previously
aired contentions that Facebook has picked favorites and
engaged in anti-competitive behavior.

The documents show that Facebook tracked growth of competitors
and denied them access to user data available to others.

In 2014, the company identified about 100 apps as being either
“Mark’s friends” or “Sheryl’s friends” and also tracked how
many apps were spending money on Facebook ads, according to the
documents, referring to Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer
Sheryl Sandberg.

The insight into the thinking of Facebook executives over that
period could invite new regulatory scrutiny into its business
practices.

Facebook said it stood by its deliberations and decisions, but
noted that it would relax one “out-of-date” policy that
restricted competitors’ use of its data.

One document said such competitor apps had previously needed
Zuckerberg’s approval before using tools Facebook makes
available to app developers.

Zuckerberg wrote in a post on Wednesday that the company could
have prevented the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal had
it cracked down on app developers a year earlier in 2014.

Misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica, a
political consulting firm, along with another data breach this
year and revelations about Facebook’s lobbying tactics have
heightened government scrutiny globally on the company’s
privacy and content moderation practices.

Stifel analysts on Wednesday lowered their rating on Facebook
shares to “hold,” saying that “political and regulatory
blowback seems like it may lead to restrictions on how Facebook
operates, over time.”

Damian Collins, a Conservative British parliamentarian who
leads a committee on media and culture, made the internal
documents public after demanding them last month under threat
of sanction from Six4Three.

The defunct app developer obtained them as part of its ongoing
lawsuit in California state court alleging that Facebook
violated promises to app developers when it ended their access
to likes, photos and other data of users’ friends in 2015.

Facebook, which has described the Six4Three case as baseless,
said the released communications were “selectively leaked” and
it defended its practices.

‘WHITELISTED’ FOR ACCESS TO FRIENDS DATA

Though filed under seal and redacted in the lawsuit, the
internal communications needed to be made public because “they
raise important questions about how Facebook treats users’
data, their policies for working with app developers, and how
they exercise their dominant position in the social media
market,” Collins said on Twitter.

Dating app Badoo and ride-hailing app Lyft were among other
companies ‘whitelisted’ for access to data about users’
friends, the documents showed. 

Lyft wanted to show carpool riders their mutual friends as an
“ice breaker,” even if those friends were not using Lyft,
according to one email. Facebook said in an email that it
approved the request because it would add to a feeling of
“safety” for riders.

Facebook described such deals as short-term extensions, but it
is unclear exactly when the various agreements ended.

Netflix, Airbnb, Lyft and Badoo did not immediately respond to
requests for comment.

The documents show an exchange between Zuckerberg and senior
executive Justin Osofsky in 2013, in which they decided to stop
giving friends’ list access to Vine on the day that social
media rival Twitter Inc launched the video-sharing service.

“We’ve prepared reactive PR,” Osofsky wrote, to which
Zuckerberg replied, “Yup, go for it.”

Twitter declined to comment.

Friends’ data had stoked the growth of many apps because it
enabled people to easily connect with Facebook buddies on a new
service.

Facebook weighed charging other apps for access to its
developer tools, including the friends lists, if they did not
buy a certain amount of advertising from Facebook, according to
the emails. In one from 2012, Zuckerberg wrote that he was
drawing inspiration for business models from books he had been
reading about the banking industry.

Facebook said it ultimately maintained free access to the
tools.

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