Facebook accused of giving access to users’ data

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Facebook's change of platform in 2014-2015 allowed it to enter into "whitelisting" agreements with app developers, giving them access to user data, in particularly how users are linked as friends within the platform.

Facebook gave some companies, including Netflix and Airbnb, preferential access to user data in 2015 as it limited services for most others, according to company emails and presentations released by a British lawmaker.

Mr Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, and Ms Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, were intimately involved in decisions aimed at benefiting the social network above all else and keeping users as engaged as possible on the site, according to e-mails that were part of the document trove. "Key points: 1/ Find out what other apps like Refresh are out that we don't want to share data with and figure out if they spend on [advertising]", he wrote on September 18, 2013, to Ime Archibong, Facebook's director of product partnerships.

A memo similarly describes reciprocity as "an equable value exchange between a third-party developer and Facebook", involving "high-quality experiences" for Facebook users or direct payments "in return" for "access to out Platform". The engineer suggested shutting down Vine's access to the friends feature, to which Zuckerberg replied, "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".

He also said that a change to Facebook's Android app policy that resulted in call and message data being recorded was deliberately made hard for users to know about.

"Americans' data belongs to them, not Facebook", said Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

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UK Member of Parliament (MP) Damian Collins, the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee that is investigating Facebook, announced that he had received the documents on November 25, and was considering what to do with them.

The release of the internal documents adds to Facebook's challenges as it wrestles with issues as varied as how it enabled the spread of misinformation and whether it properly safeguarded the data of its users.

Don't forget: It's all about apps hosted on Facebook's platform and their access to friends' data, an especially important topic in the light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year. Zuckerberg mentioned companies like Path and Pinterest, rival social networks that could use the developer access to run it out of business. "Based on their initial testing, it seems that this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialogue at all", Yul Kwon, a Facebook developer, wrote.

"However, that may be good for the world", Zuckerberg added", but it's not good for us unless people also share back to Facebook and that content increases the value of our social network".

The committee's seizure of the documents, which were under seal by a court in the United States, came after the CEO of Six4Three, Theodore Kramer, was threatened with arrest while on a business trip to London if he didn't hand over the material. They used this to find out how many people had downloaded apps and how often they used them. "I think we leak info to developers, but I just can't think if any instances where that data has leaked from developer to developer and caused a real issue for us", he wrote in one of the emails.

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