Facebook allowed tech firms special access to user data, documents show

Facebook Inc. headquarters in Menlo Park Calif.					David Paul Morris  Bloomberg

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.

Even after Facebook agreed to restrict access to user data, the social media giant gave certain companies special access to that data, according to a trove of documents released by a British parliamentary committee Wednesday.

The UK has released a 250 page document containing private emails from Facebook, including communiques from Mark Zuckerberg himself.

Internal Facebook documents, previously seized by Britain, confirm that the tech giant made a habit of sharing user data with other firms without user consent and tried to avoid bad publicity by obfuscating its data vacuuming.

In a 2012 email, Zuckerberg suggested making Facebook login and posting content on the platform free while charging "a lot of money" to read user data, like friend information, from the network.

Facebook weighed charging other apps for access to its developer tools, including the friends lists, if they did not buy a certain amount of advertising from Facebook, according to the emails. The engineer suggested shutting down Vine's access to the friends feature, to which Zuckerberg replied, "Yup, go for it".

Facebook's director of developer platforms and programs Konstantinos Papamiltiadis told AFP last week that the company "has never sold anyone's data".

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.

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Facebook's statement goes into specifics, detailing each of the concerns raised thus far by the exposed communications, although arguably, numerous provided answers do not completely address the issues raised - in some cases going off on tangents and pointing towards other mechanisms involved.

Facebook had objected to their release.

Executives also seemed concerned that simply enabling Facebook logins and data access for potentially competing platforms could ultimately cannibalize user activity on Facebook itself.

The documents also demonstrate the web of companies and services that plugged into Facebook's platform to receive information on users.

There were four other areas that Collins expressed concerns over ranging from the valuation of friends' data to increase FB revenues to using data collected from the Onavo VPN app. Facebook had "explanations" for them all and maintains that Six4Three only selected "some, but not all" documents and discussion in these matters.

The documents were brought to light by U.S. software company Six4Three, which were gathered as part of a legal case against the social network.

It was this feature that was exploited to harvest data as part of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

By sending all internet use by apps on users' iPhones via Facebook's servers the company was able to identify popular apps, the UK Guardian newspaper reported. "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. According to Bloomberg, the California courts sealed the emails, but the United Kingdom compelled the Six4Three founder to hand over a laptop containing the emails, which were acquired during discovery, when the founder visited London.

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