The East African - - NEWS -

Face­book used the moun­tains of data it col­lected on users to favour cer­tain part­ners and pun­ish ri­vals, a Bri­tish par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee has re­vealed.

Face­book used the moun­tains of data it col­lected on users to favour cer­tain part­ners and pun­ish ri­vals — giv­ing com­pa­nies such as Airbnb and Net­flix spe­cial ac­cess to its plat­form while cut­ting off oth­ers that it per­ceived as threats.

The tac­tics came to light in in­ter­nal Face­book e-mails and other com­pany doc­u­ments re­leased by a Bri­tish par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee that is in­ves­ti­gat­ing on­line mis­in­for­ma­tion. The doc­u­ments spot­light Face­book’s be­hav­iour from roughly 2012 to 2015, a pe­riod of ex­plo­sive growth as the com­pany ex­posed how to man­age the in­for­ma­tion it was gath­er­ing on users and de­bated how best to profit from what it was build­ing.

The doc­u­ments show how Face­book ex­ec­u­tives treated data as the com­pany’s most valu­able re­source and of­ten wielded it to gain a strate­gic ad­van­tage. Mark Zucker­berg, Face­book’s chief ex­ec­u­tive and Sh­eryl Sand­berg, the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, were in­ti­mately in­volved in de­ci­sions aimed at ben­e­fit­ing the so­cial net­work above all else and keep­ing users as en­gaged as pos­si­ble on the site, ac­cord­ing to e-mails that were part of the doc­u­ment trove.

In one ex­change from 2012 when Mr Zucker­berg dis­cussed charg­ing de­vel­op­ers for ac­cess to user data and per­suad­ing them to share their data with the so­cial net­work, he wrote: “It’s not good for us un­less peo­ple also share back to Face­book and that con­tent in­creases the value of our net­work. So ul­ti­mately, I think the pur­pose of plat­form — even the read side — is to in­crease shar­ing back into Face­book.”

The re­lease of the in­ter­nal doc­u­ments adds to Face­book’s chal­lenges as it wres­tles with is­sues as var­ied as how it en­abled the spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion and whether it prop­erly safe­guarded the data of its users. Mr Zucker­berg and Ms Sand­berg are un­der scru­tiny for their han­dling of the mat­ters the ex­ec­u­tives have pub­licly said they were slow to re­spond to some of the prob­lems.

Face­book had tried to stop par­lia­ment from re­leas­ing the doc­u­ments. The ma­te­ri­als had been un­der seal in the United States as part of a law­suit in Cal­i­for­nia with an app de­vel­oper. Damian Collins, the chair­man of the Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport Com­mit­tee, which is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Face­book, used par­lia­ment’s sergeant-at-arms to ob­tain the doc­u­ments last month. Mr Collins said he had the ju­ris­dic­tion to pro­cure and pub­lish the doc­u­ments as part of his panel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In a state­ment, Face­book said the doc­u­ments had been se­lec­tively cho­sen to be em­bar­rass­ing and mis­lead­ing as part of 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,” the com­pany said. “But the facts are clear: We have never sold peo­ple’s data.”

Mr Zucker­berg posted his own re­sponse on Face­book af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of the doc­u­ments, say­ing the com­pany had lim­ited its ac­cess to cer­tain apps and made other changes to pre­vent abuse of its plat­form.

Pic­ture: File

Em­ploy­ees work in Face­book’s ‘War Room.’

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