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Threats, Likes, Data-gate: What internal Facebook documents reveal

The UK Parliament’s digital, culture, media, and sport (DCMS) Committee was looking at Facebook’s internal documents with respect to Cambridge Analytica. These documents were filed in a US court, in an ongoing legal dispute between Facebook and a startup called Six4Three, which initiated the lawsuit. Six4Three alleged that Facebook defrauded developers by enticing them to create apps on the platform by implying that in return, they would get long term access to users’ data, including friends’ data.

What the DCMS found instead, in nearly 250 pages, was:

  • Facebook bought WhatsApp because it saw it as a potential “Facebook killer”, outdoing Facebook Messenger in the volume of messages, as well as time spent on the app
  • Facebook also bought Onavo to get access to its data analytics and app usage tracking across phones, which Apple blocked from its App Store, for data gathering.
  • Facebook was providing favourable user data access, including access to a user’s friends, to (“large app partners”) companies like Airbnb and Netflix (between 2012-2015) (more here)
  • Zuckerberg would have liked to charge developers for access to user data, but Facebook did not execute this
  • An update to the Facebook Android app would collect user call logs, and Facebook tried hard to hide this from its users

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO and co-founder, put out a post on Facebook which, naturally, said that the DCMS’ data dump was “out of context.”

Zuckerberg said:

  • “In 2014, to prevent abusive apps, we announced that we were changing the entire platform to dramatically limit the data apps could access… like the quiz app that sold data to Cambridge Analytica — could no longer operate on our platform.”
  • Then, these app developers sued Facebook to get more access to people’s data
  • While preventing “abusive apps” being present on the platform, Facebook faced the challenge of “making it economically sustainable as we transitioned from desktop to mobile.”
  • “Ultimately, we decided on a model where we continued to provide the developer platform for free and developers could choose to buy ads if they wanted.”
  • “To be clear, that’s different from selling people’s data. We’ve never sold anyone’s data.”
  • A repeat of what Zuckerberg said above.

Written By

I'm a MediaNama alumna from 2015-16 (remember TinyOwl?) now back to cover e-services like food and grocery delivery, app based transport and policies, platforms and media in India.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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