Documents Show Facebook Shared Users’ Data With Large Companies

Documents reveal Facebook gave certain companies special access to users' data.

Facebook business page closeup with notifications of new customers like, new messages, in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 6, 2016.
tuthelens / Shutterstock

Documents reveal Facebook gave certain companies special access to users' data.

Documents released by the British Parliament revealed Facebook shared users’ data – without users knowledge – to companies such as Lyft, Netflix, Badoo, and AirBnB, according to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British Parliament. Other whitelisted companies discussed in the emails and related documents include Tinder and the Royal Bank of Canada.

The 250 pages of documents made public include summations, emails, and memos from specific businesses and Facebook staff discussing access to users’ data through apps. Of particular concern is the approval Facebook gave for these apps to continue accessing users’ data even after new security measures were put in place to protect the data.

The parliamentary committee has requested the presence of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, on numerous occasions to attend a hearing of an international grand committee regarding data breaches. Zuckerberg has declined every time. In an effort to obtain the evidence requested, Damian Collins MP, the chairman of the DCMS Committee, resorted to an old procedure of sending a sergeant-at-arms to retrieve the requested documents, according to the New York Times.

The internal documents also show “that increasing revenues from major app developers was one of the key drivers behind the Platform 3.0 changes at Facebook,” Collins noted in a statement. “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.”

A protester wearing a model head of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg poses for media outside Portcullis House on November 27, 2018 in London, England. Facebook Vice President Richard Allan appears in front over the Commons culture committee today as part of its fake news inquiry
  Jack Taylor / Getty Images

Data reciprocity was also a main focus throughout the documents. Collins reported that evidence showed Facebook aggressively targeted competitor apps by denying those companies access to users’ data. Facebook also struck a deal with Android, which enabled the app “to collect a record of calls and texts sent by the user.” Other insider information helped Onavo, an Israeli analytics company that was acquired by Facebook in 2013, conduct “global surveys of the usage of mobile apps by customers, and apparently without their knowledge. This knowledge helped them to decide which companies to acquire, and which to treat as a threat.”

In a response to the publicized documents, Facebook maintained that they were “only part of the story” and have been misrepresented, according to the New York Times. Facebook continued to claim the documents are “misleading,” stating they have been taken out of context.

“Like any business, we had many internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform,” Facebook said in a statement. “But the facts are clear: we’ve never sold people’s data.”