Facebook considered charging companies for access to user data

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Internal Facebook emails reportedly show the social media giant considered charging companies for access to user data.


James Martin/CNET

Facebook considered charging companies for access to user data several years ago, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing internal Facebook emails in an unredacted court document.

Facebook employees also discussed encouraging advertisers to spend more money on the service in exchange for increased access to user information, the emails in the document reportedly show. Monetizing its user data would mark a dramatic about-face of the social media giant’s longstanding policy of not selling that information.

During testimony before Congress in April about the company’s data handling practices in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “I can’t be clearer on this topic. We don’t sell data, that’s not how advertising works.”

Facebook said the conversations included in the emails were from years ago and that the company ultimately decided against charging for access to user data. The company also said the documents are being presented in a misleading way, without context.

“Evidence has been sealed by a California court so we are not able to disprove every false accusation,” Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook’s director of developer platforms and programs, said in a statement. “We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends’ data with developers. Any short-term extensions granted during this platform transition were to prevent the changes from breaking user experience.”

“To be clear, Facebook has never sold anyone’s data,” Konstantinos said. “Our APIs have always been free of charge and we have never required developers to pay for using them, either directly or by buying advertising.”

The emails are reportedly included in a cache of internal Facebook documents seized recently by a representative of the UK Parliament. The seized documents were obtained during the discovery process in a lawsuit filed by defunct app maker Six4Three that claims Facebook created privacy loopholes that allowed Cambridge Analytica to obtain Facebook user data.

The documents are believed to include private internal communications among Facebook executives, including Zuckerberg, regarding Facebook’s business model. They also contain an email from a Facebook engineer alerting senior people in the company to potential Russian interference on the platform as early as 2014, a member of Parliament said Tuesday.

Damian Collins, who heads Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said during a hearing Tuesday that the UK government might release documents “within the next week.”

First published Nov. 28, 4:27 p.m. PT.
Update, 5:40 p.m.: Adds Facebook comment.

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