FACEBOOK'S DATA WRANGLING has been pushed into the light thanks to UK Parliament's release of over 250 redacted pages of sensitive internal Facebook documents which were seized in November from Six4Three, a software firm that's attempting to sue the social network.
And oh boy do they spill the beans of the firm, with the documents containing numerous Facebook internal correspondence as well as emails between it and other companies.
Out of the documents have come a number of damming revelations, so strap in folks as we break the juicy bits down.
The first is that Facebook allowed some companies to keep "full access" to Facebook user's 'friends' data even after it changed its privacy rules in 2014 and 2015 to limit the data access third-party developers have.
"It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted," commented Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee that has been probing Facebook over fake news and data privacy.
And one might ask how would Facebook users have known about consent as the documents show that Facebook deliberately made it as hard as possible for users of the Android app to be aware of the privacy changes.
Speaking of Android, the documents reveal a discussion back in February 2015 around Facebook giving its Android app access to read users' call logs
"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," Facebook product manager Michael LeBeau said, according to the documents, while also pointing out the privacy-based PR risk such a move posed to Facebook.
Facebook also had other privacy-sapping data-wielding ideas as well. According to the documents, in 2012 the Zuck was chewing over the idea of the financial benefits of giving developers access to users' Facebook friends data.
"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 the platform, including friends' data and potentially email addresses for mobile apps," Zuckerberg said.
"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."
Zuckerberg also championed the use of Facebook data with third-party apps if the plugging in of that app to Facebook data benefits "increases the value" of the social network.
When it comes to data use, Facebook apparently used data from Israeli analytics outfit Onavo to work out which other mobile apps people were downloading and then decide whether to acquire them or treat them as a threat.
If it was the latter, Facebook would refuse to share data with rival apps in a bid to make them fail. This process was apparently handled personally by Zuckerberg with him wielding the power to whitelist apps or impose strict limits upon those seen as a threat. One such example was with user-generated video app Vine, which Zuck gave the go-ahead to block data access to after an engineer flagged it as a potential competitive threat.
One of the perhaps less than damning email exchanges was Zuckerberg's musing over considering charging users for Facebook access, but with his gut instincts telling him that there was no way to charge users in a way that makes Facebook some "real money" but at the same time doesn't damage its growth.
For people who really love using Facebook that could be seen as a positive point, but the documents really do paint Facebook in a bad light.
Now we can understand a for-profit company having such ambitions and being seemingly unconcerned with data-sharing risks and user privacy, at least internally. But externally Facebook paints itself as a user-centric platform designed to connect everyone together in an almost harmonious fashion, which these documents pour a shower of the brown stuff over.
While we contacted Facebook for a direct comment on the documents' reveal, the social network has yet to reply. But Zuckerberg took to Facebook and did a post about the situation, pretty much noting that it's important the documents aren't taken out of context.
"I understand there is a lot of scrutiny on how we run our systems. That's healthy given the vast number of people who use our services around the world, and it is right that we are constantly asked to explain what we do. But it's also important that the coverage of what we do - including the explanation of these internal documents - doesn't misrepresent our actions or motives," he wrote.
He also reiterated the effort Facebook went to when it changed its third-party data-sharing rules in 2014 to get rid of "sketchy apps" such as the quiz that sold data onto Cambridge Analytica and thus laid to the data use scandal.
"We've focused on preventing abusive apps for years, and that was the main purpose of this major platform change starting in 2014. In fact, this was the change required to prevent the situation with Cambridge Analytica. While we made this change several years ago, if we had only done it a year sooner we could have prevented that situation completely," said Zuckerberg.
And the Zuck also explained that Facebook considered charging developers access to its platform, not user-related data.
"Like any organisation, 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," he said.
That makes a bit more sense, but the internal documents still don't paint Facebook in a very nice light, and with the year the social network has already been having with data exposing problems, we suspect the titbits revealed in these documents could see a good few people quit the social network,
Maybe now Zuckerberg might finally pop over to the UK and explain to MPs what Facebook gets up to when it comes to data use and privacy on its social network. µ
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