Remember those internal Facebook documents that were seized by Parliament recently, with all manner of claims being made as to how DCMS Committee Chairman Damian Collins came by them? Well, now they have been published (HERE), along with some helpful analysis to show just what kinds of dirty tricks Mark Zuckerberg and his pals have been getting up to. And Zelo Street has just had a look at them.
Let’s start with all that data Facebook gathers, some of which many users may not be aware is being gathered. Like if you have an Android phone: “Facebook knew that the changes to its policies on the Android mobile phone system, which enabled the Facebook app to collect a record of calls and texts sent by the user would be controversial. To mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard of possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app”.
How dirty is that? Did any of you Android phone users know that? Moving right along to two linked points made by the DCMS people, “Value of Friends Data” and “Reciprocity”. Here we go. “It is clear that increasing revenues from major app developers was one of the key drivers behind the Platform 3.0 changes at Facebook. The idea of linking access to friends data to the financial value of the developers relationship with Facebook is a recurring feature of the documents”. Now read about Reciprocity.
“Data reciprocity between Facebook and app developers was a central feature in the discussions about the launch of Platform 3.0”. You scratch my Cloud, I’ll scratch yours. It’s about monetising all that data, with or without the user’s knowledge. The data, in turn, was then used to drive Facebook’s corporate development. How? Check this out.
“Facebook used Onavo to conduct global surveys of the usage of mobile apps by customers, and apparently without their knowledge. They used this data to assess not just how many people had downloaded apps, but how often they used them. This knowledge helped them to decide which companies to acquire, and which to treat as a threat”. All from yet more of that data that users have ponied up, willingly or otherwise.
So now we come to the competitive advantage that Facebook was able to bestow on the favoured, or conversely, remove from those deemed to be threats. For the former category, this meant Whitelisting, and what that means can be put directly.
“Facebook have clearly entered into whitelisting agreements with certain companies, which meant that after the platform changes in 2014/15 they maintained full access to friends data. It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not”. So only those favoured by being whitelisted maintained access to friends data. For instance?
Dating app Badoo, driver and rider matching service … Lyft (whether Uber was also thus favoured is not told), AirBnB, and Netflix. It appears Royal Bank of Canada was also whitelisted after extensive internal discussion. There was discussion about giving Tinder full friends data access in return for allowing Facebook to use the term “moments”, which had been previously protected by Tinder. More mutual Cloud scratching.
Then we come to the concept of “Targeting Competitor Apps”. As the DCMS summary says, “The files show evidence of Facebook taking aggressive positions against apps, with the consequence that denying them access to data led to the failure of that business”. And further down the document list, we see a prime example of that failure.
“Facebook email 24 January 2013 … Justin Osofsky: ’Twitter launched Vine today which lets you shoot multiple short video segments to make one single, 6-second video. As part of their NUX, you can find friends via FB. Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends API access today. We’ve prepared reactive PR, and I will let Jana know our decision’”. What happened to Vine? It withered on it.
There you have it: a quick skim through the trove of documents seized by Parliament reveals the use and misuse of data - from dirty tricks on Android users, through exchanging it with favoured corporate interests, using it to expand their own business, to giving access to it when the recipient was not a threat, or cutting them off at the knees if it was. And much of this activity is going on out if sight, in the shade of the sunlight.
Small wonder Zuckerberg does not want to testify before Damian Collins and his merry band of increasingly clued-up MPs. Knowledge, as the old saying goes, is power, and for Facebook this power, with its potential to monetise all that data, has long passed the point where it is under any kind of regulatory control - any control at all, in fact.
Millions have given data to Facebook. But they won’t see a cent in return. And you wondered where the catch was with “It’s free and always will be”? Now you know.
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