New court documents reveal that tech giant Facebook reportedly began cutting off access to user data for app developers in 2012 to squash potential rivals. The company internally called this the “Switcheroo Plan.”
Reuters reports that new court documents appear to show that Facebook cut off app developers’ access to user data in2012 in an effort to squash possible rivals. Facebook publicly claimed that this was done in efforts to protect user privacy, with executives referring to the privacy-focused explanation for the move as the “Switcharoo Plan.”
7,000 pages of company emails and executive documents were filed as Facebook faces multiple investigations related to possible antitrust violations by regulators worldwide. The emails are valuable evidence to regulators, including a U.S. House of Representatives panel which sought records from Facebook in Septemeber relating to the company’s decision to ban apps from its social graph which generates a map of relations between users.
The documents come from a lawsuit filed in 2015 by Six4Three, the developers of a bikini photo app that lost access to Facebook user data as a result of the changes, the app has since been discontinued. Six4Three alleges that Facebook’s data policies were anticompetitive and that the firm misrepresented those policies to developers and the public.
Facebook has claimed that the lawsuit is baseless and told Reuters that recent documents were “taken out of context by someone with an agenda against Facebook” and made public “with a total disregard for U.S. law.” The newly published documents contain exchanges between Facebook executives discussing cutting off access to user data for developers who could be potential competitors to Facebook.
At the time of these discussions, Facebook was portraying itself as an open and neutral platform. As part of a project to restrict user data, dubbed “PS12N” in 2013 one executive described dividing apps into “three buckets: existing competitors, possible future competitors, [or] developers that we have alignment with on business models.”
Those that fell into the third category could regain access to user data by agreeing to make mobile advertising purchases or provide their own user data to Facebook under “Private Extended API Agreements.” Executives decided to announce the change to user data access publicly, but decided to link what they called the “bad stuff of PS12N” to an unrelated update to the Facebook login system.
An email from one executive states that the agreed-upon “narrative” for the announcement “will focus on quality and the user experience which will potentially provide a good umbrella to fold in some of the API deprecations.”
In another email from February 2014, colleagues were invited to review the “Switcharoo Plan,” calling it “a good compromise” that will enable them “to tell a story that makes sense.” The same executive said in an email one month earlier: “My concern is around the perception that we can’t hold our story together.”