On Nov. 24, 250 pages of internal documentation was seized from Six4Three founder, Ted Kramer as he made his way through the UK. Kramer had been embroiled in a legal battle with Facebook over privacy issues. The Six4Three documents, which contained emails and other private internal memorandum from Facebook, was reviewed by a UK committee headed by Damian Collins investigating potential privacy violations. The investigation comes on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica (CA) data breach that occurred in 2015, with Facebook’s knowledge. Despite the fact that Facebook knew CA was harvesting user data via Aleksandr Kogan’s thisisyourdigitallife app, the company took no action. CA insisted it had information on only 20 million Facebook users. Christopher Wylie, whistleblower for Cambridge Analytica estimated that the breach had affected at least 50 million users, it turned out this was a low estimate. The breach affected 87 million users and was concentrated around Indonesia, The Philippines, the UK and Australia.
Cambridge Analytica, knowing their game was up, folded and reemerged as Emerdata. Mark Zuckerberg testified before congress and apologized for his company’s irresponsibility. People complained. Articles were written and then nothing much else happened until the data seizure occurred.
The internal documentation details Facebook’s whitelisting agreements with various companies such as Netflix, AirBnB & Badoo, as far back as 2015, which means that when a user changes companies Facebook retains all of their friend information; it was unclear whether or not the users had consented to this. Further, the documentation showed that Facebook had aggressively attempted to stamp out all serious competition in a attempt to maintain their monopolistic strangehold on social media, fast slipping away; for example, when Twitter launched Vine, Zuckerberg gave the greenlight to pull access to Facebook API. Zuckerberg also demands “full reciprocity” with the app developers who work with Facebook, meaning that they were to share all data they had on users with Facebook and if they did so then the company would then share all the data they had on their users back. Tit for tat. Further, and perhaps most bizarrely, the documents reveal that in 2013, Facebook hired the Israeli analytics firm, Onavo to spy on users without their knowledge which was used to find out which apps were most popular and thus, which companies Facebook should acquire.
Mark Zuckerberg released a statement concerning the documents on 12/5/18 via his Facebook account. The full statement is provided below.
“This week a British Parliament committee published some internal Facebook emails, which mostly include internal discussions leading up to changes we made to our developer platform to shut down abusive apps in 2014-2015. Since these emails were only part of our discussions, I want to share some more context around the decisions we made.
We launched the Facebook Platform in 2007 with the idea that more apps should be social. For example, your calendar should show your friends’ birthdays and your address book should have your friends’ photos. Many new companies and great experiences were built on this platform, but at the same time, some developers built shady apps that abused people’s data. In 2014, to prevent abusive apps, we announced that we were changing the entire platform to dramatically limit the data apps could access.
This change meant that a lot of sketchy apps — like the quiz app that sold data to Cambridge Analytica — could no longer operate on our platform. Some of the developers whose sketchy apps were kicked off our platform sued us to reverse the change and give them more access to people’s data. We’re confident this change was the right thing to do and that we’ll win these lawsuits.
At the same time as we were focusing on preventing abusive apps, we also faced another issue with our platform — making it economically sustainable as we transitioned from desktop to mobile. Running a development platform is expensive and we need to support it. Back when the main way people used Facebook was on computers, we supported the platform by showing ads next to developers’ apps on our website. But on mobile, Apple’s policies prevent us from letting apps run within Facebook and apps take the whole screen anyway, so we needed a new model to support this platform to let people log in and connect with other apps.
Like any organization, 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.
Of course, we don’t let everyone develop on our platform. I mentioned above that we blocked a lot of sketchy apps. We also didn’t allow developers to use our platform to replicate our functionality or grow their services virally in a way that creates little value for people on Facebook. We restricted a number of these apps, and for others we asked developers to provide easy ways for people to share their content outside of their apps and to Facebook if they wanted.
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.
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. This was an important change to protect our community, and it achieved its goal.”
Facebook stock has fallen by 100+ billion USD since the data perforation was made public.
Provided below are all 250 pages of UK-acquired Facebook documentation.