Facebook wielded user data to reward, punish rivals, emails show

Aaron Brown
December 6, 2018

Facebook also used its position as user data provider to affect the businesses of its competitors in social media, like Twitter, the report said.

Damian Collins, a British Member of Parliament, released 250 pages of emails and findings on Wednesday that examine how Facebook treated user data amid its increasing dominance in the social media market from about 2012 to 2015. "We're trying to enable people to share everything they want, and to do it on Facebook", Zuckerberg wrote in a November 2012 email.

In early 2013, Twitter Inc. launched the Vine video-sharing service, which drew on a Facebook tool that let Vine users connect to their Facebook friends. It's suing Facebook over a change to the social network's privacy policies in 2015 that led Six4Three to shut down its app, Pikinis. The good news about full reciprocity [where apps let users share their activity back to Facebook] is that for bigger social companies we might otherwise be anxious about, if they're enabling their users to push all of their social content back into Facebook then we're probably fine with them.

"We don't feel we have had straight answers from Facebook on these important issues, which is why we are releasing the documents", Collins tweeted. "It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not".

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The committee's seizure of the documents, which were under seal by a court in the United States, came after the CEO of Six4Three, Theodore Kramer, was threatened with arrest while on a business trip to London if he didn't hand over the material.

"Like any business, we had many of internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform", Facebook said in an emailed statement.

But the documents also show discussions about giving special friend list access to particular companies, including Airbnb and Netflix, after it was no longer available by default to most developers.

Exhibit number 172 of the original suit provides some supporting details, where an email exchange between Facebook developers suggesting that including new permissions was a "high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective" and assurances that an upgrade path that would omit the new permissions dialog had been explored and was viable. With regards to Onavo, Facebook argues "we've always been clear when people download Onavo about the information that is collected and how it is used, including by Facebook". This year, he had to testify in front of U.S. Congress on one such instance of a developer sharing user data with Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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