Facebook’s Executive Team Used User Data to Battle Rivals and Help Friends, Documentation Shows

Facebook has had a touchy relationship with user privacy and security over the years, with some suggesting in pretty plain language that neither one of those things matter to the social network giant. New documentation may support those claims, as a new report reveals.

NBC News has the report on Tuesday, based on documentation seen by the news outlet. Those documents reveal that Facebook’s executive team, all the way up to the company’s chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, leveraged user data as a potential means of not only attacking rivals, but also helping friends. The news outlet was able to see over 4,000 leaked documents that range from 2011 to 2015. They first surfaced in 2015, after a lawsuit was filed against Facebook by the startup Six4Three.

Back in 2015, a year these documents cover, Facebook was going out of its way to claim it reduced data access in an effort to keep individual users on the platform safe from companies. However, while Facebook was making a public front on the subject, the documents reveal that, internally, privacy was not high on the list of things it cared about. In reality, Facebook’s move to reduce data access was a way to gain more power over partner companies, and especially third-party apps.

Facebook tightened up shop, giving preferential treatment to some companies over others. For the companies Facebook approved of, the company struck exclusive deals with them, giving them access to third-party data before the data changes were implemented. And for the companies Facebook wasn’t fond of, or simply wanted to leverage control over, they were denied access.

“However, among the documents leaked, there’s very little evidence that privacy was a major concern of Facebook’s, and the issue was rarely discussed in the thousands of pages of emails and meeting summaries. Where privacy is mentioned, it is often in the context of how Facebook can use it as a public relations strategy to soften the blow of the sweeping changes to developers’ access to user data. The documents include several examples suggesting that these changes were designed to cement Facebook’s power in the marketplace, not to protect users.”

Facebook’s executive team had determined that third-party apps and developers weren’t a huge boost for the company. However, on the other side of the coin, those third-party app developers were benefiting quite a bit from the Facebook platform as a whole. In an effort to turn things around in favor for the social network, Facebook started holding user data hostage, doling it out piecemeal as it saw fit.

Another important bit: Apparently Facebook’s discussions in the past about charging companies for user data was far more than just “cursory conversations”, and it looks like the social network was seriously considering that change. Mark Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg, and CPO Chris Cox were apparently all in favor of the idea:

“Still, these freshly leaked documents show that the plans to sell access to user data were discussed for years and received support from Facebook’s most senior executives, including Zuckerberg, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, chief product officer Chris Cox and VP of growth Javier Olivan. Facebook declined to make them available for comment.”

The full report from NBC News is absolutely worth reading, and you can find it through the source link below.

Our Take

Facebook has always played it pretty fast and loose with user privacy and data security. It’s never felt particularly important to the social network, especially not when it’s so obvious user data is so vital to the company. We should all be happy that charging for that data didn’t actually take off.

[via NBC News]