Fa­ce­book Emails Give In­side Look at How It Sha­red User Da­ta

L'Opinion - - The Wall Street Journal - Kirs­ten Grind and Dee­pa See­tha­ra­man

Fa­ce­book ap­pea­red to ask some app de­ve­lo­pers to spend more on ad­ver­ti­sing on the site in ex­change for da­ta ac­cess.

Fa­ce­book exe­cu­tive Kons­tan­ti­nos Pa­pa­mil­tia­dis, di­rec­tor of plat­form part­ner­ships, wrote in 2013 that Fa­ce­book should fi­gure out how much apps are spen­ding on NE­KO, an acro­nym the com­pa­ny used to des­cribe apps ins­tal­led on phones.

“Find out what other apps... are out there that we don’t want to share da­ta with and fi­gure out if they spend on NE­KO,” Mr. Pa­pa­mil­tia­dis wrote to ano­ther Fa­ce­book exe­cu­tive, Ime Ar­chi­bong. “Com­mu­ni­cate to the rest that they need to spend on NE­KO at least $250k a year to main­tain ac­cess to the da­ta,” the email said. The Jour­nal ear­lier re­por­ted the exis­tence of the email ex­change.

Fa­ce­book has long said it doesn’t sell user da­ta, an as­ser­tion re­pea­ted in Chief Exe­cu­tive Mark Zu­cker­berg’s sta­te­ment about the do­cu­ments Wed­nes­day.

Fa­ce­book ap­pea­red to be concer­ned about apps lo­sing da­ta ac­cess that had links to Mr. Zu­cker­berg and Fa­ce­book Chief Ope­ra­ting Of­fi­cer She­ryl Sand­berg.

One chart in­clu­ded in the emails from 2014 sho­wed the num­ber of apps af­fec­ted by da­ta-po­li­cy changes – more than 27,000 – and ano­ther sho­wed the num­ber of apps that were “Mark’s friends” and "She­ryl’s friends,” 31 and 66 res­pec­ti­ve­ly, ac­cor­ding to one do­cu­ment.

A Fa­ce­book spo­kes­wo­man said, “The team flag­ged foun­ders who were li­ke­ly to reach out to Mark and She­ryl with ques­tions. We did not give those com­pa­nies spe­cial ac­cess.”

Fa­ce­book al­so wor­ried about lo­sing re­la­tion­ships with some com­pa­nies that were big ad­ver­ti­sers.

In dis­cus­sing ac­cess to users’ friends lists, em­ployees stres­sed the im­por­tance of Fa­ce­book main­tai­ning cer­tain re­la­tion­ships, in­clu­ding with the Royal Bank of Ca­na­da, which was sin­gled out as run­ning one of the big­gest NE­KO cam­pai­gns ever in Ca­na­da. An RBC spo­kes­man said in a sta­te­ment to the Jour­nal last week that “we have ne­ver had a mi­ni­mum mar­ke­ting spend or tar­get agree­ment with Fa­ce­book.”

The emails illus­trate the concerns some com­pa­nies ex­hi­bi­ted over being cut off from da­ta about Fa­ce­book users’ friends.

The ge­ne­ral coun­sel at Ba­doo, a so­cial net­work po­pu­lar in Eu­rope, sent an email to Mr. Pa­pa­mil­tia­dis in Sep­tem­ber 2014 see­king ad­vice on a me­mo he plan­ned to send to Fa­ce­book’s plat­form team.

In it, the coun­sel, whose name wasn’t in­clu­ded in the do­cu­ment, said re­mo­ving friend per­mis­sions would have a “hu­ge­ly de­tri­men­tal ef­fect” to Ba­doo, as well as to its “Hot or Not” app.

“We would the­re­fore be ve­ry gra­te­ful if you could re­con­si­der how the pro­po­sed changes will be ap­plied to our ap­pli­ca­tions, and whe­ther there are any as­su­rances we can give to you that would sup­port a change in your de­ci­sion,” the coun­sel said in the me­mo. A Ba­doo re­pre­sen­ta­tive de­cli­ned to comment.

The do­cu­ments show that Fa­ce­book was willing to work with some out­side com­pa­nies af­ter they com­plai­ned about lo­sing da­ta ac­cess.

In March 2015, the ride-sha­ring com­pa­ny Lyft emai­led Fa­ce­book exe­cu­tives to say that ac­ces­sing a Fa­ce­book users’ mu­tual friends would be be­ne­fi­cial to its own app. The app was “whi­te­lis­ted,” an in­ter­nal name gi­ven to spe­cial da­ta ar­ran­ge­ments, as of March 2015. The com­pa­ny pre­vious­ly de­cli­ned to comment on it re­la­tion­ship with Fa­ce­book.

The do­cu­ments show the extent of Fa­ce­book’s own da­ta-col­lec­tion ef­forts, in­clu­ding its use of An­droid da­ta and po­ten­tial li­cen­sing agree­ments with other com­pa­nies.

In 2015, Fa­ce­book of­fi­cials dis­cus­sed how Google’s An­droid phone made a change that would al­low Fa­ce­book to conti­nuous­ly suck up text and call-log his­to­ry. The em­ployees said the da­ta could be used to im­prove news feed ran­kings and its “People You May Know” fea­ture. “This is a pret­ty high risk thing to do from a PR pers­pec­tive but it ap­pears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it,” one em­ployee wrote. Mr. Zu­cker­berg al­so as­ked the pro­duct team to find ways to make it more dif­fi­cult for users to post on Fa­ce­book un­der the “on­ly me” set­ting, which meant posts were on­ly vi­sible to the user.

Google has said it re­cent­ly chan­ged its po­li­cy so that on­ly an app that has been se­lec­ted by an An­droid user as its de­fault will be able to ac­cess call logs and text mes­sages.

In Fe­brua­ry 2015, Mr. Pa­pa­mil­tia­dis wrote to the web-hos­ting site GoDad­dy that he wan­ted to speak with exe­cu­tives about li­cen­sing its da­ta on the res­tau­rant in­dus­try. “Res­tau­rants, bars and night­clubs are places where most people on Fa­ce­book che­ckin and is real­ly im­por­tant for us to en­sure we have good co­ve­rage,” Mr. Pa­pa­mil­tia­dis wrote.

GoDad­dy held ex­plo­ra­to­ry conver­sa­tions with Fa­ce­book in 2015 re­gar­ding a po­ten­tial li­cen­sing agree­ment, said a GoDad­dy spo­kes­man. An agree­ment was ne­ver si­gned, and GoDad­dy ne­ver sha­red in­for­ma­tion with Fa­ce­book other than in­for­ma­tion that is pu­bli­cly avai­lable.

Fa­ce­book al­so was skilled at tra­cking com­pe­ti­tors.

Thanks to its 2013 ac­qui­si­tion of Is­rae­li mo­bile-ana­ly­tics com­pa­ny Ona­vo, which dis­tri­butes a da­ta-se­cu­ri­ty app, Fa­ce­book was able to track the per­for­mance of its com­pe­ti­tors.

The do­cu­ments show how Fa­ce­book re­lied on Ona­vo to in­form its de­ci­sion to buy the mes­sa­ging ser­vice WhatsApp, as pre­vious­ly re­por­ted by the Jour­nal last year.

Fa­ce­book pul­led the con­su­mer-fa­cing ver­sion of that app – Ona­vo Pro­ject, a vir­tual pri­vate net­work – from Apple ’s app store in Au­gust this year af­ter the iP­hone ma­ker ru­led that the ser­vice vio­la­ted its da­ta-col­lec­tion po­li­cies, The Wall Street Jour­nal re­por­ted.

Stu Woo and La­ra O’Reilly contri­bu­ted to this ar­ticle

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