Leaked Facebook documents including court filings and internal discussions by Facebook employees reveal how the company planned to sell user data for profit.
In 2018, the U.K. Parliament used its legal powers to obtain a number of internal Facebook documents as it attempted to hold the social media giant accountable for the Cambridge Analytica data scandal which saw the personal data of 87 million Facebook users allegedly left vulnerable. The decision to seize the documents came after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to appear before U.K. Parliament to testify about the data breach as he did before U.S. Congress. Zuckerberg instead offered to send a Facebook representative.
Damian Collins, the chair of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, used a rare and unusual parliamentary mechanism to force the founder of U.S. based software company Six4Three to hand over documents relating to Facebook when he was visiting the U.K. on a business trip. Parliament went as far as sending a sergeant-at-arms to the software company founder’s hotel with a warning and two-hour deadline to comply with its order and hand over the documents. When he failed to do so, he was escorted to Parliament where he was informed he faced heavy fines and even imprisonment for not complying.
Ultimately, the U.K. Parliament received and published what was believed to be all of the documents; but now it appears that Parliament held back on publishing some of the information that they received from Six4Three. Computer Weekly reports that over 100 new pages of internal Facebook documents have now been published.
The new documents contain internal discussion between Facebook employees, specific court filings, discussions around how to charge developers for access to user data, special user data access for whitelisted partners, how to monetize gaming apps and a discussion about the Facebook account of company CEO Mark Zuckerberg which may have had a security breach.
Computer Weekly broke down some of the most shocking revelations from the documents, such as the company’s plans to track android user data, various privacy worries and plans to extract data from independently developed applications. Computer Weekly reports:
According to internal emails published on Github, Facebook planned to use its Android app to match users’ location data with mobile phone base station IDs to deliver “location-aware” products.
Marne Lynn Levine, then vice president of global public policy, disclosed Facebook’s plans to exploit data from Android phones in an email in 2012.
Tracking Android phones:
“We’ll be collecting users’ location data and matching it with cell site IDs. This information will be stored in anonymous form but will allow us to roll out “feature phone” products in the future,” she wrote.
Levine, who is now chief operating officer of Instagram, revealed that Facebook had changed its policies to make it easier for advertisers to target single people on Facebook, including serving them with political advertisements through a self-service interface.
“We revised our policy to allow advertisers to target users who haven’t indicated that they are ‘married’ or ‘in a relationship’ (instead of only allowing targeting of ‘single’ users),” she wrote.
“This targeting capability is only currently available for dating, but the ads product team is working to expand it to other verticals (like political) and make it available via self-serve.”
The news is likely to raise further questions about the use of Facebook for political purposes, following revelations that it was used by Russia to attempt to influence the Brexit vote.
A spokesperson for Facebook claimed that the documents were “cherry-picked” and omit “important context.” However, it appears that the information in the documents simply verifies claims and suspicions about Facebook made some time ago. The Facebook spokesperson stated:
Like the other documents that were cherry-picked and released in violation of a court order last year, these by design tell one side of a story and omit important context. As we’ve said, these selective leaks came from a lawsuit where Six4Three, the creators of an app known as Pikinis, hoped to force Facebook to share information on friends of the app’s users. These documents have been sealed by a Californian court so we’re not able to discuss them in detail.
Read more on the case at Computer Weekly here.