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250 pages of internal Facebook files were just dumped online—here are the 6 key takeaways

December 5, 2018

A UK parliamentary committee has published 250 pages’ worth of Facebook documents, including e-mails sent between CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other senior executives.

How did they get them? The files were seized by UK authorities just over a week ago when Ted Kramer, founder of US software firm Six4Three, was in London. Kramer has been in a legal battle with Facebook since 2015 over developer access to user data.

Don’t forget: It’s all about apps hosted on Facebook’s platform and their access to friends’ data, an especially important topic in the light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year.

 Here are the six main things we’ve learned from the files:

—Facebook “whitelisted” certain companies, meaning that they still had full access to users’ friends’ data after platform changes in 2014-15, including Airbnb, Netflix, and Badoo. “It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not,” said Damian Collins, a member of Parliament and committee chair.

—Facebook aggressively tried to shut down the competition. When Twitter launched the six-second-video-clip platform Vine, Zuckerberg approved revoking its access to Facebook’s API.

—Friends’ data has been a big source of revenue for Facebook, thanks to growing revenues from app developers. The idea of tying access to this data to the developer’s relationship with Facebook is a recurring feature throughout the documents.

—Mark Zuckerberg wanted “full reciprocity” between Facebook and app developers: you share all your data on users with us, and we’ll share all of ours with you.

—Facebook found ways to access users’ call history without alerting them, in order to make “People You May Know” suggestions and tweak news-feed rankings. Facebook planned to make it as hard as possible for users to know that this was happening.

—Facebook used Onavo (an Israeli analytics company it bought in 2013) to check customers’ usage of mobile apps without their knowledge. They used this to find out how many people had downloaded apps and how often they used them. This information was used to suss out potential companies to acquire.

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