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The Facebook emails

3 min read

I still need to read the documents unsealed by British Parliament for myself, but they seem pretty revealing.

From the Parliamentary summary itself:

Facebook have clearly entered into whitelisting agreements with certain companies, which meant that after the platform changes in 2014/15 they maintained full access to friends data. It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not.

[...] It is clear that increasing revenues from major app developers was one of the key drivers behind the Platform 3.0 changes at Facebook. The idea of linking access to friends data to the financial value of the developers relationship with Facebook is a recurring feature of the documents.

[...] Facebook knew that the changes to its policies on the Android mobile phone system, which enabled the Facebook app to collect a record of calls and texts sent by the user would be controversial. To mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard of possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app.

In the New York Times:

Emails and other internal Facebook documents released by a British parliamentary committee on Wednesday show how the social media giant gave favored companies like Airbnb, Lyft and Netflix special access to users’ data.

In Forbes:

In one 2013 email from Facebook's director of platform partnerships Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, the executive tells staff that “apps that don’t spend” will have their permissions revoked.

“Communicate to the rest that they need to spend on NEKO $250k a year to maintain access to the data,” he wrote. NEKO is an acronym used at Facebook to describe app install adds, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, the email cache reveals that Facebook shut down Vine's access to the Facebook friends API on the day it was released. Justin Osofsky, VP for Global Operations and Corporate Development, wrote Mark Zuckerberg at the time:

Twitter launched Vine today which lets you shoot multiple short video segments to make one single, 6-second video. As part of their NUX, you can find friends via FB. Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends API access today. We’ve prepared reactive PR, and I will let Jana know our decision.

Zuckerberg's reply:

Yup, go for it.

Purely coincidentally, I'm sure, Facebook changed this policy yesterday. As TechCrunch reported:

Facebook will now freely allow developers to build competitors to its features upon its own platform. Today Facebook announced it will drop Platform Policy section 4.1, which stipulates “Add something unique to the community. Don’t replicate core functionality that Facebook already provides.”

That policy felt pretty disingenuous given how aggressively Facebook has replicated everyone else’s core functionality, from Snapchat to Twitter and beyond. Facebook had previously enforced the policy selectively to hurt competitors that had used its Find Friends or viral distribution features. Apps like Vine, Voxer, MessageMe, Phhhoto and more had been cut off from Facebook’s platform for too closely replicating its video, messaging or GIF creation tools. Find Friends is a vital API that lets users find their Facebook friends within other apps.

It will be interesting to follow the repercussions of this release. My hope is that we'll finally see some action from the US government in the new year. In the meantime, it's ludicrous that it took action from the UK - and legislation from the EU - to bring some of this to light.