Facebook and its small arrangements around personal data: 7000 confidential documents overwhelm the firm

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Internal documents on Facebook make it possible to demonstrate that personal data could be used as a "bargaining chip" by the firm in order to evict competitors or give a strategic advantage to partners.

NBC News, ComputerWeekly and journalist Duncan Campbell have publicly posted on the Internet nearly 7,000 internal Facebook documents (1,200 of which "Highly confidential"). These documents were obtained in the context of the lawsuit filed by the British application developer Six4Three, whose operation of the app Pikinis had been unilaterally blocked by Facebook following the implementation of new measures of protection of personal data of members of the network, the very ones that were to prevent a scandal of the magnitude of Cambridge Analytica from occurring.

Access to data, boost or stop

However, by searching through these documents, much evidence has come to light, showing that data protection may not be the first goal of Facebook in making these changes. Indeed, it is question in exchanges of emails between executives of Facebook to let certain privileged partners of the platform have an extended access to the personal data of its members (most of the time without their knowledge). Conversely, actions were knowingly taken by Facebook to prevent some competitors to emerge, or at least put a drag on the most threatening of them.

As of 2013, there are traces of a classification of applications available on Facebook, some of which are considered "Compatible" with the economic model of the social platform, others as "Competing" more or less serious. Among the "buddies" of Facebook, companies that have long been able to continue to enjoy access to data, are cited Amazon, Netflix and Lyft, among others. Often, their membership in this list is related to the beautiful sums of money invested in Facebook's advertising device. Conversely, some applications like Pikinis were brutally cut off access to the data they were exploiting, becoming at one stroke totally inoperative. This was for example the case of MessageMe, a messaging app, which Facebook had judged the progress too fast.

A strategy discussed in high places

These accesses continued well after 2015 and the wave of the most drastic changes in data access. In 2014, an internal email described in black and white a communication strategy presented as effective: highlight the benefits of changes for the user and the quality of service above all, since a question would be asked about the precise functioning of programming interfaces that can provide access to members' personal data. At that time, in internal emails, some Facebook executives had alerted management to the lack of ethics of some decisions, but other collaborators, such as product manager Doug Purdy, praised Mark Zuckerberg's foresight that he described as "Master of leverage".

For Facebook, the publication of these documents should never have taken place, especially since they would have been meticulously sorted out of context. "As we have said many times, Six4Three – the creators of the Pikinis app – chose these documents years ago as part of a lawsuit to force Facebook to share information about friends. of its users (…) The set of documents, by their design, tells only one side of the story and omits an important context. We are still maintaining the changes made to our platform in 2014/2015 to prevent people from sharing their friends' information with developers such as the creators of Pikinis "said Paul Grewal, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Facebook.

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