Dec 5, 2018 - Technology

Newly public documents paint picture of Facebook's ruthlessness

Image of a person pulling up the Facebook app

Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook documents released Wednesday portray the social giant as considering aggressive routes to squeeze more revenue out of user data, giving major companies extra access to data and undermining competitors.

Why it matters: While much of what's in the documents was already reported, together they provide a rare window into one of the world's most influential companies and reveal how Facebook's executives were ruthlessly focused on growing their service — while downplaying risks to user privacy.

The documents released by a British lawmaker show Facebook insiders discussing major issues:

  • Special access for certain companies. Employees worked with companies like Lyft, Netflix and Airbnb to extend access to some data after Facebook had generally cut off access to it for developers at large. The existence of similar agreements has been public for months, but Wednesday's document dump reveals new players who got special access and offers more insight into Facebook's decision-making.
  • Limited worry about user data leaking, even as Facebook moved towards locking access to that data down. "I think we leak info to developers, but I just can’t think of any instances where that data has leaked from developer to developer and caused real issue for us," chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in 2012, describing almost exactly the kind of behavior that would lead to the Cambridge Analytica scandal years later.
  • Moving to box out competitors. In 2013, Zuckerberg authorized a decision to shut down access to certain data for Vine, Twitter's now-dead short form video service, according to one document.

The backstory: Facebook's refusal to send Zuckerberg to testify in front of British lawmaker Damian Collins' committee has frustrated members of Parliament, culminating in Wednesday's release of the documents with limited redactions.

The other side: Facebook has said the documents, which are part of ongoing litigation against the firm, may paint a selective picture of the company's actions.

  • Zuckerberg pushed back Wednesday on aspects of the way the contents of the documents were being portrayed.

Go deeper: Read the documents

This story has been updated with more details from the documents.

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