Facebook chief’s emails exposed by MPs

Technology
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The UK parliament’s fake news inquiry has published a cache of seized Facebook documents.

The correspondence includes internal emails sent between Mark Zuckerberg and the social network’s staff. The emails were obtained from the chief of a software firm that is suing the tech giant.

About 250 pages have been published, some of which are marked “highly confidential”.

Facebook had objected to their release.

Damian Collins MP, the chair of the parliamentary committee involved, highlighted several “key issues” in an introductory note.

He wrote that:

  • Facebook allowed some companies to maintain “full access” to users’ friends data even after announcing changes to its platform in 2014/2015 to limit what developers’ could see. “It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted,” Mr Collins wrote
  • Facebook had been aware that an update to its Android app that let it collect records of users’ calls and texts would be controversial. “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,” Mr Collins wrote
  • Facebook used data provided by the Israeli analytics firm Onavo to determine which other mobile apps were being downloaded and used by the public. It then used this knowledge to decide which apps to acquire or otherwise treat as a threat
  • there was evidence that Facebook’s refusal to share data with some apps caused them to fail
  • there had been much discussion of the financial value of providing access to friends’ data

In response, Facebook has said that the documents had been presented in a “very misleading manner” and required additional context.

“We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends’ data with developers,” said a spokeswoman.

“Like any business, we had many internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform.

“But the facts are clear: we’ve never sold people’s data.”

Tactics revealed

Among the emails that have been published are the following extracts:

Blocking Vine

The following concerns a decision to prevent Twitter’s short-form video service having access to users’ friends lists. It is dated 24 January 2012.

Justin Osofksy (Facebook vice president):

“Twitter launched Vine today which lets you shoot multiple short video segments to make one single, 6-second video… Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends API access today. We’ve prepared reactive PR, and I will let Jana know our decision.”

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook chief executive):

“Yup, go for it.”

Android update

The following is part of a discussion about giving Facebook’s Android app permission to read users’ call logs. It is dated 4 February 2015.

Michael LeBeau (Facebook product manager):

“As you know all the growth team is planning on shipping a permissions update on Android at the end of this month. They are going to include the ‘read call log’ permission… This is a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it.”

Data leaks

The following is from a discussion in which Mark Zuckerberg mulled the idea of selling developers access to users’ friends’ data. It is dated October 2012, pre-dating the quiz involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It was sent to Sam Mullin, who was vice president of product management.

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook chief executive):

“It’s not at all clear to me here that we have a model that will actually make us the revenue we want at scale. I’m getting more on board with locking down some parts of platform, including friends’ data and potentially email addresses for mobile apps. I’m generally sceptical that there is as much data leak strategic risk as you think… I think we leak info to developers but I just can’t think of any instances where that data has leaked from developer to developer and caused a real issue for us.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-46456695

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