Facebook gave data on user’s friends to certain companies, documents reveal

NEW DELHI: Facebook Inc offered some companies, including Netflix and Airbnb, access to data about users' friends it did not make available to most other apps in 2015, according to documents released by a British lawmaker who said the social media company dodged questions about privacy practices and market dominance.

The 223 pages released on Wednesday were internal communications from 2012 to 2015 between company leaders, including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, providing fresh evidence and sparking new political scrutiny about previously aired allegations that Facebook has picked favourites and engaged in anti-competitive behaviour.

Facebook said it stood by its deliberations and decisions. "The facts are clear. We've never sold peoples data," it said.

The company said it would relax one ‘out-of-date' policy that restricted competitors' use of its data. Previously, "Mark level sign-off" would have been required for an exemption to the policy, according to one document, referring to Zuckerberg.

The documents show that Facebook tracked growth of competitors and denied them access to key data.

Zuckerberg agreed to senior executive Justin Osofsky's request in 2013 to stop giving friends' list access to Vine on the day that social media rival Twitter Inc launched the video-sharing service.

"We've prepared reactive PR," Osofsky wrote, to which Zuckerberg replied, "Yup, go for it."

‘Mark's friends' or ‘Sheryl's' friends'

Among non-competitors, Facebook still drew distinctions.

Ride service Lyft, which does not compete with Facebook, wanted access to comprehensive lists of users' friends to show carpool riders their mutual friends as an "ice breaker." Facebook approved the request, saying in an email it would add to a feeling of safety for riders.

In 2014, the company described about 100 apps as being either "Mark's friends" or "Sheryl's friends" and also tracked how many apps were spending money on Facebook ads, according to the documents, referring to Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Other emails describe Facebook denying online ticket seller Ticketmaster and an automotive technology supplier extended access to complete lists of users' friends after Facebook questioned how the date would be used.

The documents also raised questions about Facebook's transparency.

An exchange from 2015 shows Facebook leaders discussing how to begin collecting call logs from Android users' smartphones without subjecting them to "scary" permissions screens.

The effort began with some disclosures in 2015. But when the data-collecting became more well known this year amid increased scrutiny on Facebook, the company drew criticism from lawmakers about not doing more to inform users.


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