Sensitive internal Facebook documents published by UK Parliament

The documents are thought to contain emails from Mark Zuckerberg.

James Martin

UK Parliament published excerpts from sensitive internal Facebook documents on Wednesday as part of its investigation into fake news and the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal.

Parliament seized the documents from now defunct app developer Six4Three, which is currently suing Facebook, at the end of November during a trip by the company’s founder to London. They include emails sent to and from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other senior Facebook executives. Their publication was accompanied by a note from Chair of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Damian Collins summarising his findings.

Facebook has been keen to keep the documents out of the public realm — they are also currently held under seal by a court in California — but last week Collins said Parliament would publish them if it felt it was in the public interest to do so. Only fragments of the documents — some of which date back to 2012 and 2013 — are included in the published bundle, which totals 250 pages.

Facebook warned that the cache of documents alone weren’t enough on their own to understand the full story of the decisions it made and how they were reached. “As we’ve said many times, the documents Six4Three gathered for their baseless case are only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context,” said a spokeswoman for the company in a statement.

In his memo, Collins highlighted what his committee determines to be the six key findings from the documents. This includes that Facebook tried to hide from Android phone users that it was collecting data about their calls and texts in case it turned into a PR problem. 

In an email Michael LeBeau, who at the time worked as a product manager for Facebook, even predicted the kind of negative headline the company might attract: “Facebook uses Android update to pry into your private life in ever more terrifying ways – reading your call logs, tracking you in businesses with beacons, etc.”

The memo noted that Facebook whitelisted certain apps, so that even after it changed its privacy policy in 2014/2015, some developers were still able to access data belonging to their users’ friends. The company also apparently collected data about app use by phone users — apparently without their knowledge — to determine who its biggest rivals were and which companies it should aim to acquire. Facebook took an “aggressive” position when dealing with rival apps, Collins said, by denying them access to data that meant that businesses would fail.

One example within the documents is that when Twitter launched Vine, Facebook appears to have cut off the company’s access to its API, which would have allowed users to find friends via Facebook. When asked if Facebook should go ahead with the action, Zuckerberg responded: “Yup, go for it.”

“We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends’ data with developers,” said Facebook’s spokeswoman. “Like any business, we had many of internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform. But the facts are clear: we’ve never sold people’s data.”

This story is developing…

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