Facebook tried to keep explosive emails and documents secret, but they ended up online
An explosive trove of nearly 4000 pages of confidential internal Facebook documents has been made public, shedding unprecedented light on the inner workings of the Silicon Valley social-networking giant.
On Wednesday, the investigative reporter Duncan Campbell released a vast swathe of internal emails, reports, and other sensitive documents from the early 2010s that detail Facebook's internal approach to privacy and how it worked with app developers and handled their access to user data.
The documents were originally compiled as part of a lawsuit that the startup Six4Three brought against Facebook for cutting off its bikini-photo app's access to the developer platform. The documents were supposed to remain under seal – but they were leaked.
Some of the documents had already been made public before Wednesday. The British Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee published hundreds of pages in a report in December; they were seized from Six4Three's founder, Ted Kramer, when he visited the UK.
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And in the months before he put the entire trove of documents into the public domain, Campbell shared them with journalists at NBC News and other outlets, who then published several stories about them. (Campbell said that he was sent the documents in February, the same day that the committee published its final report, and that the sender was anonymous.)
Facebook has fought vigorously against the release of the documents, arguing that they do not paint a balanced picture of its activities. In an emailed statement, a company representative told Business Insider: "These old documents have been taken out of context by someone with an agenda against Facebook, and have been distributed publicly with a total disregard for US law."
Business Insider is combing through the documents and will update this story with our findings.
Here are some of the key revelations from the document dump, including from reports published from earlier leaks:
- Facebook wielded its control over user data to hobble rivals like YouTube, Twitter, and Amazon. The company benefited its friends even as it took aggressive action to block rival companies' access – while framing its actions as necessary to protect user privacy.
- Facebook executives quietly planned a data-policy "switcharoo." "Facebook began cutting off access to user data for app developers from 2012 to squash potential rivals while presenting the move to the general public as a boon for user privacy," Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing the leaked documents.
- Facebook considered charging companies to access user data. Documents made public in late 2018 revealed that from 2012 to 2014, Facebook was contemplating forcing companies to pay to access users' data. (It didn't ultimately follow through with the plan.)
- Facebook whitelisted certain companies to allow them more extensive access to user data, even after it locked down its developer platform throughout 2014 and 2015.TechCrunch reported in December that it "is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not."
- Facebook planned to spy on the locations of Android users. Citing the documents, Computer Weekly reported in February that "Facebook planned to use its Android app to track the location of its customers and to allow advertisers to send political advertising and invites to dating sites to 'single' people."
The leak includes nearly 4000 pages of internal Facebook documents, nearly 3000 pages of other exhibits from the case, and hundreds of pages of other pieces of legal documentation.
- This story was first published by BusinessInsider.com.au