Facebook Offered Users’s Data to Netflix and Airbnb

December 6, 2018

Facebook offered companies, including Netflix and Airbnb, access to data about users’ friends that it did not make available to other apps, according to documents released by parliament.

The 223 pages released yesterday were internal communications from 2012 to 2015 between company leaders, including chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, shedding light on allegations that Facebook has engaged in anti-competitive behaviour.

The documents show that Facebook tracked growth of competitors and denied them access to key data. Zuckerberg agreed to senior executive Justin Osofsky’s request in 2013 to stop giving friends’ list access to Vine on the day that social media rival Twitter launched the video-sharing service. “We’ve prepared reactive PR,” Mr Osofsky wrote, to which Mr Zuckerberg replied: “Yup, go for it.”

The documents also raised questions about Facebook’s transparency. An exchange from 2015 shows Facebook leaders discussing how to begin collecting call logs from Android users’ smartphones without subjecting them to “scary” permissions screens.

In a summary of the 250-page cache, which includes internal emails involving Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and other members of staff, Damian Collins MP, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, highlighted a number of “key issues”.

He claimed the documents show Facebook chose to “whitelist” selected companies, allowing them to maintain “full access” to the data of a user’s Facebook friends even after the company announced changes in 2015 to end such access.

Mr Collins suggested the cache also showed Facebook regularly discussed the value of data on the platform, and said: “The idea of linking access to friends’ data to the financial value of the developers’ relationship with Facebook is a recurring feature of the documents.”

He added that the files also showed Facebook knew an update to its Android mobile app that would allow it to collect user call logs would be controversial and “to mitigate any bad PR Facebook planned to make it as hard as possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app”.

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