UPDATE: UK Committee Releases Facebook Documents

The UK parliamentary committee finally released some of the Facebook Documents they seized from a Californian court-case filed against the social media giant. The documents point to some shady practices when it comes to user privacy. Read on to find out what was in those documents

UPDATE: UK Committee Releases Facebook Documents

UPDATE: UK Committee Releases Facebook Documents

The Facebook Documents – What Was In There?

On November 27th, the IGCD held its first hearing to discuss Facebook’s approach to user privacy and data. The Committee was armed with documents pertaining to a lawsuit filed against Facebook in California.

Facebook, understandably, was quick to inform the committee that the documents were sealed under California court laws. In turn, MP Damian Collins informed Facebook that the documents can be published “upon parliament’s discretion.”

And published they were! 250 pages of the confidential documents are now available for the public to read, and boy are they a doozy!

Key Points Found in Facebook Documents

I highly recommend you take some time to go through the documents yourself, but here are the major issues that the Facebook Documents have uncovered:

  • Facebook created Whitelists for specific companies that give their apps “full access to friends data”. This contradicts Facebook’s 2014/15 update that removed friend data access to apps. User consent on this is not clear.
  • The social media platform charged companies for the Whitelist access, tying user data directly to Facebook’s financial profit.
  • Facebook upgraded their app and added a policy that allows it to collect “a record of calls and texts sent by the user.” To stop any bad PR from happening, Facebook deliberately made it “as hard as possible” for users to know about this new policy. This was later found out earlier this year and removed from Facebook’s policies after public outcry.
  • The social media platform used Onavo to “conduct global surveys of the usage of mobile apps by customers” without their knowledge. The data they collected was used to find companies for Facebook to acquire and to determine which companies would be seen as a threat.
  • Facebook actively targeted competitor apps, gave them less data access than others, and contributed to the failure of those businesses.
  • The platform was updated with the idea of monetizing information in mind. Here’s an excerpt from an email former VP of product management, Sam Lessin, sent to Zuckerberg: “The question is who do we give the actual data out to and on what terms […] we should sell this, but I don’t see any way we can sell it on standard terms.”

What This Means to Facebook in the Future

It’s hard to properly assess how these documents will affect Facebook in the future. However, a few things are clear:

  1. User consent was not at the top of Facebook’s priorities.
  2. Certain publically-made claims (i.e. limiting the data third-party apps can access) were very different than what actually happened in real life. This is clear in the emails, especially since Zuckerberg himself has written the words “we leak info to developers”.
  3. Facebook used its influence to directly target competitors and is the main cause of the failure of many a business.
  4. The platform considers user data to be its biggest revenue making product.

Zuckerberg replied to the documents in a post on his own Facebook. He stated that the emails and documents released did not show the full discussion, and went on to say:

“Like any organization, we had a lot of internal discussion and people raised different ideas. Ultimately, we decided on a model where we continued to provide the developer platform for free and developers could choose to buy ads if they wanted. This model has worked well. Other ideas we considered but decided against included 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.”

The Facebook Documents – Final Thoughts

Seeing as Facebook is a global social media platform, it should be interesting to see how different regulatory bodies react to these documents.

What we know for a fact, though, is that Facebook seems to be in for yet another year of scrutiny. Ever since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, lawmakers have been rushing to get a clear answer out of Facebook on how they deal with user data. These documents won’t do much to tone that down. In fact, it may simply offer lawmakers more reason to increase their line of questioning.

Honestly, how this will reflect on Facebook as a business isn’t clear. All we can do is wait for the ball to drop eventually. ,

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