Published: Thu, December 06, 2018
Worldwide | By Angelina Lucas

Facebook Wielded User Data to Reward and Punish Rivals, Emails Show

Facebook Wielded User Data to Reward and Punish Rivals, Emails Show

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

Several emails related to giving Royal Bank access to Facebook friends data in 2013 so the bank could develop an app that would allow customers to transfer money via Facebook Messenger.

"We're trying to enable people to share everything they want and to do it on Facebook", Zuckerberg wrote to colleagues in 2012 as Facebook was working on the third-generation of its developer platform.

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.

"Yup, go for it", Zuckerberg responded. "We explored multiple ways to build a sustainable business with developers who were building apps that were useful to people", the company said in a statement.

It suggests that Facebook knew changes that would allow it to collect a record of calls and texts would be controversial on the Android operating system, so made it "as hard of possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app".

Facebook's statement goes into specifics, detailing each of the concerns raised thus far by the exposed communications, although arguably, numerous provided answers do not completely address the issues raised - in some cases going off on tangents and pointing towards other mechanisms involved.

Last month, the committee seized confidential Facebook documents from the developer of a now-defunct bikini photo searching app as part of its investigation into fake news.

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Facebook had objected to their release.

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

Though the direct payments never came to pass, the point is that Facebook knew that its users were valuable to other companies, and believed that it should receive equal value for making them available. "Sometimes the best way to enable people to share something is to have a developer build a special objective app or network for that type of content and to make that app social by having Facebook plug into it".

The documents also demonstrate the web of companies and services that plugged into Facebook's platform to receive information on users. "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".

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

Onavo offered a series of apps that let people monitor their data use and protect themselves from malware and threats.

Facebook has seen nearly no end to public scrutiny since the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The material has been put under seal by a California court but it was recently given to Damian Collins, the chairman of the committee, by the founder of Six4Three.

"Sometimes the best way to enable people to share something is to have a developer build a special objective app or network for that type of content and to make that app social by having Facebook plug into it", Zuckerberg wrote in 2012. A subsequent email suggests users wouldn't need to be prompted to give permission for this feature to be activated.

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