The internal workings of Facebook have been revealed after the UK parliament released 250 pages of internal documents from the controversial company.
The files show a range of discussions from inside Facebook, including suggestions that it could one day charge developers for access to its data about users.
It comes as the company is hit by a range of scandals about how Facebook uses the vast array of personal data it collects about its users.
The documents were released by parliament’s media committee, which is running an investigation into those scandals and Facebook more generally. The documents are files seized from a now-defunct bikini photo searching app as part of that investigation.
They show that Facebook deeply considered the issues that would go on to produce a range of scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica affair.
“There’s a big question on where we get the revenue from,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in one email. “Do we make it easy for devs to use our payments/ad network but not require them? Do we require them? Do we just charge a rev share directly and let devs who use them get a credit against what they owe us? It’s not at all clear to me here that we have a model that will actually make us the revenue we want at scale.”
The parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee received the documents from app developer Six4Three, which had acquired the files dating from 2013-2014, as part of a U.S. lawsuit against the social media giant. The app developer is suing Facebook over a change to the social network’s privacy policies in 2015 that led Six4Three to shut down its app, Pikinis, which let users find photos of their friends in bathing suits by searching their friends list.
Facebook responded quickly, saying the release was misleading.
“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,” the statement said. “We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends’ data with developers. Like any business, we had many 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.”
In a summary of the 250-page cache, which includes internal emails involving Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and other members of staff, Mr Collins highlighted a number of “key issues”.
He claims the documents show Facebook chose to “whitelist” selected companies, allowing them to maintain “full access” to the data of a user’s Facebook friends even after the company announced changes in 2015 to end such access.
Mr Collins suggests the cache also shows Facebook regularly discussed the value of data on the platform, saying: “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.”
He adds that the files also show Facebook knew an update to its Android mobile app that would allow it to collect user call logs would be controversial and “to mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard as possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app”.
The summary also accuses Facebook of using analytics app Onavo to “conduct global surveys of the usage of mobile apps by customers, and apparently without their knowledge”. It says the site used this data to assess how often people use these apps and then to decide on which companies to acquire and which to treat as a threat.
Additional reporting by agencies