A cache of internal Facebook documents released by a United Kingdom member of Parliament show how CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives wrestled with how to monetize their valuable user data while still encouraging third-party apps to post user activity on Facebook.
The UK has released a 250 page document containing private emails from Facebook, including communiques from Mark Zuckerberg himself.
Six4Three is now attempting to enter these documents as evidence in its USA lawsuit with Facebook.
Facebook touted itself as championing privacy four years ago when it made a decision to restrict outsider developers' access to data about its users' friends. Alerted to the possible competitive threat by an engineer who recommended cutting off Vine's access to Facebook data, Zuckerberg replied succinctly: "Yup, go for it". "We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends' data with developers".
"Facebook knew that the changes to its policies on the Android mobile phone system, which enabled the Facebook app to collect a record of calls and texts sent by the user would be controversial".
The U.K. committee seized the documents from app developer Six4Three, maker of a now-defunct bikini-picture search app. Six4Three acquired the files as part of a US lawsuit that accuses Facebook of deceptive, anti-competitive business practices. The company denies that claim, arguing instead that, while it could have required developers to buy advertising, "we ultimately settled on a model where developers did not need to purchase advertising to access APIs and we continued to provide the developer platform for free". Zuckerberg mentioned companies like Path and Pinterest, rival social networks that could use the developer access to run it out of business.
Though filed under seal and redacted in the lawsuit, Collins said the material needed to be made public because "they raise important questions about how Facebook treats users' data, their policies for working with app developers, and how they exercise their dominant position in the social media market". He'd obtained the documents after compelling the founder of USA software company Six4Three to hand them over during a business trip to London.
By sending all internet use by apps on users' iPhones via Facebook's servers the company was able to identify popular apps, the UK Guardian newspaper reported.
Misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, along with another data breach this year and revelations about Facebook's lobbying tactics have heightened government scrutiny globally on the company's privacy and content moderation practices. They used this to find out how many people had downloaded apps and how often they used them. "Of course, we don't let everyone develop on our platform", he wrote.
It was this feature that was exploited to harvest data as part of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
One email cautioned it could be "a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective", and internal discussions focused on which Android permissions to request in which app upgrades to avoid causing "PR fallout" and adverse user responses. According to Bloomberg, the California courts sealed the emails, but the United Kingdom compelled the Six4Three founder to hand over a laptop containing the emails, which were acquired during discovery, when the founder visited London.