Court Filings Show Facebook’s Data Policy Was About Competition, Not Privacy

Facebook Data Policy Was About Competition

Facebook’s 2012 policy changes that denied app developers access to user data was actually about stifling competition, not protecting user privacy, according to documents reviewed by Reuters on Wednesday (Nov. 6).

Nearly 7,000 pages of company emails and executive documents, included those in sealed California court filings, were leaked by an anonymous source. The documents revealed that some Facebook executives seemed to refer to the privacy-focused explanation as the “Switcharoo Plan.”

A Facebook spokeswoman told Reuters the documents were “taken out of context by someone with an agenda against Facebook” and made public “with a total disregard for U.S. law.”

The documents surfaced from a 2015 lawsuit filed in California by Six4Three, the developer of a bikini photo app that was denied permission to tap into Facebook user data because of the new policy. The developer accused Facebook of having anti-competitive data policies that were misrepresented to both the public and developers.

The documents were provided to several media outlets by British journalist Duncan Campbell after he first submitted them to Congressman David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), chairman of the U.S. Congress House Judiciary, the Daily Mail reported.

The document leak comes on the heels of possible antitrust violations and worldwide scrutiny into Facebook’s practices. The information could be used by a U.S. House of Representatives panel that is investigating Facebook’s call to block apps from its social graph that outlines users’ relationships.

The new documents detail discussions between executives about how Facebook denied user data access to developers who could be competitors.

In 2013, an executive detailed the data restriction project – called PS12N – and how apps were segmented into “three buckets: existing competitors, possible future competitors [or] developers that we have alignment with on business models.”

In September, Facebook revealed it has suspended “tens of thousands” of apps associated with about 400 developers due to an investigation into how developers use its members’ data.