Did Facebook use data to make money and gain competitive edge?
Documents have emerged that suggest Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke with the social network’s senior executives about harnessing user data to consolidate the platform’s power.
The team discussed many ways by which app developers could be charged for access to Facebook’s data mines as a means to raise revenue after issuing shares to the public.
Facebook has long claimed that customer details will never be sold, but the 7,000 pages of documentation seen by NBC in the States, Computer Weekly, and Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung suggest to the contrary.
According to the information, Mark Zuckerberg’s firm spent years deciding on how to best monitise data, ignored employee complaints of customer data being visible to others after those customers had opted for their data to remain private, and proposed data-sharing deals with the likes of Netflix, Spotify, Dropbox and Foursquare.
It has also emerged that the company cut competitors off from Facebook data and had its strategy criticised as “unethical” by staff.
Simon Cross, a partner engineer, discovered that data he had elected to keep private on his Facebook account could be accessed by friends were using the Guardian newspaper app.
“If I use the Guardian’s app…I can set my reads to be visible to only me. However, the app can’t see this setting and makes my reads visible to my other friends who use the app within the app’s UI [User Interface] They’re getting complaints about this,” Cross wrote.
Another Facebook worker enquired whether the firm should “apply the sharing rules of the GDPR on top of the rules set in the app”, for fear of rendering privacy controls meaningless.
“Facebook needs to make it clearer that the privacy settings only protect privacy in Facebook, not necessarily the app,” wrote Carl Sjogreen, who was director of product management for platform and mobile at the time.
“There is no way apps can keep up with our privacy model and we are asking for trouble if we ask them to try. They should figure out what makes sense for their app and clearly communicate this to users,” he added.
The documents also show that plans to charge developers for data access came about following Facebook’s terrible IPO in May 2012, when Zuckerberg said:
“If any developer doesn’t want to work with us on this, but still wants to be able to pull friends and other data from us, we should be clear that this reciprocity is important to us.”
By October of the same year, the Facebook chief was calling his company an “information bank,” stating:
“Even though the idea of an information bank is not identical to [a] financial bank, the comparison suggests some interesting things. For example, banks charge you interest for as long as you have their money out.”
Charging dollars for data was eventually dropped in favour of data sharing with company “friends”, while methods were discussed to protect the value of user data through restricting APIs.