Leaked documents show how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the company’s user data to bolster his site’s power, as well as fight off competitors.
NBC News obtained about 4,000 pages of leaked company documents mostly spanning 2011 to 2015 and including emails, webchats, presentations, spreadsheets and meeting summaries.
The documents show how Facebook found ways to use the social media giant’s user data as leverage over its partners, including rewarding some companies with access to the data while denying the same privilege to rival companies and apps.
For example, Facebook gave Amazon extended access to user data after the eCommerce giant advertised on the social network. In contrast, Facebook considered stopping access to user data for a growing messaging app that had become a competitor.
In addition, the company discussed different ways to make third-party apps pay Facebook for access to the data, which had the support of Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Product Officer Chris Cox and VP of growth Javier Olivan. The company, however, eventually opted against that move, and instead released the user data to app developers who were “friends” of Zuckerberg, or those who spent money on the site and shared their own data.
Then in 2015, the company decided to cut off broad access to user data, which affected thousands of competitors and small businesses — a strategy which some Facebook employees likened to villains from Game of Thrones.
Startup Six4Three’s app, Pikinis, was one of the 40,000 apps impacted by the cut off and shut down soon afterward. Six4Three sued Facebook that same year, and many of the documents leaked stem from the case.
“Our case is about Zuckerberg’s decision to weaponize the reliance of companies on his purportedly neutral platform and to weaponize the private and sensitive data of billions of people,” said Six4Three founder Ted Kramer.
But Facebook countered that the documents were “cherry-picked” and misleading.
“As we’ve said many times, Six4Three — creators of the Pikinis app — cherry-picked these documents from years ago as part of a lawsuit to force Facebook to share information on friends of the app’s users,” Paul Grewal, vice president and deputy general counsel at Facebook, said in a statement. “The set of documents, by design, tells only one side of the story and omits important context. We still stand by the platform changes we made in 2014/2015 to prevent people from sharing their friends’ information with developers like the creators of Pikinis. The documents were selectively leaked as part of what the court found was evidence of a crime or fraud to publish some, but not all, of the internal discussions at Facebook at the time of our platform changes. But the facts are clear: we’ve never sold people’s data.”