Internal Emails Reveal the Way Facebook Treated Companies

Based on 250 pages of internal Facebook emails and documents from 2012 to 2015 and released by a U.K. parliamentary committee, it’s been revealed that Facebook used its massive cache of data to favor some companies, such as Airbnb and Netflix with “special access,” and punish others by cutting them off. Further, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg were closely involved in decisions to “increase sharing back into Facebook” and other moves to primarily benefit the company.

The New York Times reports that Facebook tried to keep the British Parliament from releasing the documents, which “had been under seal in the United States as part of a lawsuit in California with an app developer.”

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chair Damian Collin, which is investigating Facebook, “used Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms to obtain the documents last month,” stating he had the jurisdiction as “part of his panel’s investigation.”

Facebook responded that it is a “baseless” lawsuit. “Like any business, we had many internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform,” said the company. “But the facts are clear: We’ve never sold people’s data.”

In the U.S., “lawmakers said some of the documents raised questions about whether Zuckerberg had told them the truth when he testified in April and said Facebook did not sell people’s data.”

“Any evidence of a pay-for-data model would fly in the face of the statements Facebook has made to Congress and the public,” said Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts).

NYT notes that, “publication coincides with a more hawkish shift in public opinion toward online collection of user data.” But, the documents reveal that, as Facebook shifted its focus from desktop computers to mobile devices, it “was beginning to debate how to be compensated for the data it was sharing.”

It drafted “white list” agreements with companies like Airbnb, Lyft and Netflix, giving them “preferred access to data that other companies had been restricted from receiving after a Facebook policy change.” For companies like Twitter that Facebook regarded as a threat, it “shut off the access to its Facebook friends data.”

Elsewhere, NYT reports that, “it should not come as a surprise that Facebook … would act in its own interests,” but rather that the image it promoted of Facebook as an “idealistic enterprise” that only wanted to bring the world closer together was “a carefully cultivated smoke screen.”

“The company’s executives were ruthless and unsparing in their ambition to collect more data from users, extract concessions from developers and stamp out possible competitors.” Among the findings is that Facebook “engineered ways to collect Android users’ data without alerting them” and used a privacy app “to collect usage data about its competitors.” Zuckerberg also “personally approved cutting off a competitor’s data access.”