California Attorney General Sues Facebook For Documents

California attorney general Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court to obtain Facebook documents and email correspondence between chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. Becerra revealed that, over an 18-month period, Facebook has “ignored or resisted” his dozens of requests for these documents. Meanwhile, internal Facebook documents recently made public revealed the company was more interested in defeating rivals than improving customer privacy.

The New York Times reports that “the attorney general of the District of Columbia has also sued Facebook, accusing it of privacy violations.” The Massachusetts attorney general has been “investigating Facebook’s privacy practices,” and is engaged in a fight with the Silicon Valley firm “over whether to make internal documents public.”

Public records unsealed in September showed that “Facebook had suspended tens of thousands of apps for improperly sucking up users’ data.”

Bloomberg reports that a recent release of internal Facebook documents revealed that, “business considerations outweighed the privacy concerns the company publicly touted when it decided five years ago to cut off tens of thousands of developers from its platform,” in its so-called Switcharoo Plan.

“The documents portray company executives plotting how to convince the public they were serious about improving privacy protections even while their real goal was to snuff out competition,” says Bloomberg. The documents had been sealed as part of a 2015 lawsuit brought by Six4Three, one of the app developers cut off by Facebook. A Facebook spokesperson stated that the documents “have been taken out of context by someone with an agenda against Facebook.”

Lawmakers asked Facebook for “extensive documents” in September to determine if the company denied apps access to Facebook’s APIs or required the apps to purchase Facebook ads to retain API access. Congressman David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) reported that Facebook provided “tens of thousands” of documents by mid-October.

“Facebook had a history of preventing rivals — even ones who weren’t real rivals yet — from using its advertising products,” notes Bloomberg, which pointed to the company’s move, in 2013, to restrict ads “for competitive Google products, as well as WeChat, LINE and Kakao, the messaging apps popular in Asia.” “Those companies are trying to build social networks and replace us,” wrote Zuckerberg in a 2013 email. “The revenue is immaterial to us compared to any risk.”