Facebook: UK Parliament published "cherrypicked" documents

The internal Facebook documents, seized from now-defunct business Six4Three, reveal how Facebook gave some app developers preferential treatment, as well as the value Facebook placed on user data.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

A British Parliament Committee on Wednesday published hundreds of pages of internal Facebook documents, revealing the company's approach to working with third-party app developers and its approach to handling user data. Facebook, however, was quick to denounce the documents as "cherrypicked."

"The set of documents, by design, tells only one side of the story and omits important context," the social media giant said in a lengthy statement.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg published his own personal response on Facebook, acknowledging, "Like any organization, we had a lot of internal discussion and people raised different ideas." He called the Facebook scrutiny "healthy given the vast number of people who use our services," but he said it shouldn't "misrepresent our actions or motives."

UK lawmakers took the documents from the now-defunct app developer Six4Three, as part of their investigation into social media and the spread of fake news. Six4Three had obtained the documents as part of the legal discovery process in its lawsuit against Facebook.

Damian Collins, chairman of Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, explained on Twitter that the documents held "considerable public interest" and that his committee felt compelled to release them after failing to get "straight answers" from Facebook on the issues:

The documents are largely comprised of discussions that preceded the changes Facebook made to its developer platform in 2014 and 2015. At that time, Facebook changed its third-party data access policy, making it more restrictive. However, as Facebook has already acknowledged, it gave certain companies extended, special access to user data in 2015.

The documents highlight several companies that received this special treatment from Facebook, including Lyft, Netflix and Airbnb. Collins wrote that "it is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not."

The documents also shed light on the value Facebook places on user data. For instance, in one 2012 email, Zuckerberg considers charging developers 10 cents/user per year for access to user data. The documents also reveal the thinking behind Facebook's approach to collecting data from Android phones, as well as the way it targeted competitors.

Facebook's official response stressed, "we've never sold people's data."

Similarly, Zuckerberg wrote that his company "considered but decided against... charging developers for usage of our platform, similar to how developers pay to use Amazon AWS or Google Cloud. To be clear, that's different from selling people's data. We've never sold anyone's data."

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