Facebook said to weaponize data
Brits release emails detailing discussions on leveraging user info
Documents released Wednesday show that Facebook cut special deals with some app developers to give them more access to data, while icing out others that it viewed as potential rivals.
NOTE: U.S. financial markets were closed Wednesday in observance of former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral.
Facebook used the mountains of data it collected on users to favor 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 on Wednesday from internal Facebook emails and other company documents released by a British parliamentary committee that is investigating online misinformation. The documents spotlight Facebook’s behavior from roughly 2012 to 2015, a period of explosive growth as the company navigated 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 emails that were part of the document trove.
In one exchange from 2012 when 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. Zuckerberg and 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.
In a statement, Facebook said the documents were 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’ve never sold people’s data.”
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. “I understand there is a lot of scrutiny on how we run our systems,” he wrote, adding that context was needed. “This was an important change to protect our community, and it achieved its goal.”