Facebook Played Favorites With Data

Facebook, under renewed scrutiny for its business practices, enabled certain companies such as Netflix and Airbnb to access the friends lists of users after it blocked access to that data for the majority of apps in 2015.

Reuters, citing documents released by British lawmakers, reported that between 2012 and 2015 executives at the social media network operator — including chief executive Mark Zuckerberg — tracked how competitors were growing and then denied some access to user data that was available to other companies. According to some of the 223 pages of internal communications released, Reuters reported that in 2014 Facebook created a list of around 100 apps that were either “Mark’s friends” or “Sheryl’s friends” and tracked how many apps were spending money on Facebook ads. Sheryl refers to chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.  One document showed that apps which were viewed by the company as competitors needed the approval of Zuckerberg before using Facebook tools that developers are able to access, reported Reuters. Friends data was attractive to app developers because it enabled people to connect with Facebook friends on a service.

According to the report, in addition to Netflix and Airbnb, Badoo, the dating app and Lyft, the ride-hailing app, were among the companies to get approval to access data about users’ friends. Lyft wanted the data to show carpool riders mutual friends as a way to make the ride more comfortable even if the friends weren’t using Lyft. Facebook said in one email that it signed off on the request because it would give riders a feeling of safety. Another document shows an exchange that took place between Zuckerberg and Justin Osofsky, the senior executive at Facebook back in 2013, in which they cut off friends’ list access to Vine, its rival, on the day it launched a video sharing service on rival Twitter. “We’ve prepared reactive PR,” Osofsky wrote, to which Zuckerberg replied, “Yup, go for it,” reported Reuters. Facebook had even toyed with charging some apps for access to developer tools such as the friends list if they didn’t purchase a certain level of ads from the company. In 2012 Zuckerberg wrote in one email that he was getting his inspiration for the idea from books he had been reading about the banking market. Facebook decided to keep the tools free.

The emails could spur further regulatory review of the social media company that has been under fire for weeks now as more damaging information about its business practices come to light.


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