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Facebook Lets Selected Companies Access User’s Data

Friends' data had stoked the growth of many apps because it enabled people to easily connect with Facebook buddies on a new service.

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This photo shows a Facebook app icon on a smartphone in New York. VOA

Facebook Inc let some companies, including Netflix and Airbnb, access users’ lists of friends after it cut off that data for most other apps around 2015, according to documents released on Wednesday by a British lawmaker investigating fake news and social media.

The 223 pages of internal communication from 2012 to 2015 between high-level employees, including founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, provide new evidence of previously aired contentions that Facebook has picked favorites and engaged in anti-competitive behavior.

The documents show that Facebook tracked growth of competitors and denied them access to user data available to others.

In 2014, the company identified about 100 apps as being either “Mark’s friends” or “Sheryl’s friends” and also tracked how many apps were spending money on Facebook ads, according to the documents, referring to Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

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A smartphone user displays a Facebook newsfeed .VOA

The insight into the thinking of Facebook executives over that period could invite new regulatory scrutiny into its business practices.

Facebook said it stood by its deliberations and decisions, but noted that it would relax one “out-of-date” policy that restricted competitors’ use of its data.

One document said such competitor apps had previously needed Zuckerberg’s approval before using tools Facebook makes available to app developers.

Zuckerberg wrote in a post on Wednesday that the company could have prevented the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal had it cracked down on app developers a year earlier in 2014.

Misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, along with another data breach this year and revelations about Facebook’s lobbying tactics have heightened government scrutiny globally on the company’s privacy and content moderation practices.

Stifel analysts on Wednesday lowered their rating on Facebook shares to “hold,” saying that “political and regulatory blowback seems like it may lead to restrictions on how Facebook operates, over time.”

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A television photographer shoots the sign outside of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. VOA

Damian Collins, a Conservative British parliamentarian who leads a committee on media and culture, made the internal documents public after demanding them last month under threat of sanction from Six4Three.

The defunct app developer obtained them as part of its ongoing lawsuit in California state court alleging that Facebook violated promises to app developers when it ended their access to likes, photos and other data of users’ friends in 2015.

Facebook, which has described the Six4Three case as baseless, said the released communications were “selectively leaked” and it defended its practices.

‘Whitelisted’ for Access to friends’ data

Though filed under seal and redacted in the lawsuit, the internal communications needed to be made public because “they raise important questions about how Facebook treats users’ data, their policies for working with app developers, and how they exercise their dominant position in the social media market,” Collins said on Twitter.

Dating app Badoo and ride-hailing app Lyft were among other companies ‘whitelisted’ for access to data about users’ friends, the documents showed.

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A Facebook logo is displayed at a start-up companies’ gathering in Paris, France. VOA

Lyft wanted to show carpool riders their mutual friends as an “ice breaker,” even if those friends were not using Lyft, according to one email. Facebook said in an email that it approved the request because it would add to a feeling of “safety” for riders.

Facebook described such deals as short-term extensions, but it is unclear exactly when the various agreements ended. Netflix, Airbnb, Lyft and Badoo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The documents show an exchange between Zuckerberg and senior executive Justin Osofsky in 2013, in which they decided to stop giving friends’ list access to Vine on the day that social media rival Twitter Inc launched the video-sharing service.

“We’ve prepared reactive PR,” Osofsky wrote, to which Zuckerberg replied, “Yup, go for it.” Twitter declined to comment.

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A protester wearing a mask with the face of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is flanked by two fellow activists wearing angry face emoji masks, during a protest against Facebook policies, in London, Britain (From archives) VOA

Friends’ data had stoked the growth of many apps because it enabled people to easily connect with Facebook buddies on a new service.

Also Read: Employees at Facebook Looking For Better Opportunities in Future

Facebook weighed charging other apps for access to its developer tools, including the friends lists, if they did not buy a certain amount of advertising from Facebook, according to the emails. In one from 2012, Zuckerberg wrote that he was drawing inspiration for business models from books he had been reading about the banking industry.

Facebook said it ultimately maintained free access to the tools. (VOA)

Next Story

Content Moderators on Facebook and YouTube Asked to Sign PTSD Forms

Content moderators at Facebook and YouTube in Europe and in the US have been asked to sign PTSD forms

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Content moderators at Facebook and YouTube in Europe and in the US have been asked to sign forms detailing that the job may cause post-traumatic stress disorder. Pixabay

Content moderators at Facebook and YouTube in Europe and in the US have been asked to sign forms detailing that the job may cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to The Financial Times and The Verge, global professional services firm Accenture which provides content moderators for big tech firms have asked them to sign a form, explicitly acknowledging that their job could cause post-traumatic stress disorder.

Accenture runs at least three content moderation sites for Facebook in Europe, including in Warsaw, Lisbon and Dublin. A similar document was also provided by Accenture to workers at a YouTube content moderation facility in Austin, Texas. Accenture said the wellbeing of workers was a “top priority”.

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Accenture runs at least three content moderation sites for Facebook in Europe, including in Warsaw, Lisbon and Dublin. Pixabay

“We regularly update the information we give our people to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the work they do,” the company said in a statement.

“According to an employee who signed one of these acknowledgment forms, every moderator at the facility was emailed a link and asked to sign immediately,” the report said.

The Accenture form says workers might review “disturbing” videos and that moderating “such content may impact my mental health, and it could even lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Both Facebook and Google said they did not review Accenture’s new form.

The Verge’s probe last month into Accenture’s Austin site described hundreds of low-paid immigrants toiling in, removing videos flagged for extreme violence and terrorist content.

Also Read- Tech Giant Apple Becomes One of The Fastest-Growing Brands in India

“The moment they quit Accenture or get fired, they lose access to all mental health services. One former moderator for Google said she was still experiencing symptoms of PTSD two years after leaving,” the report claimed.

Last year, The Verge published a report of Facebook moderators and one of them said he “sleeps with a gun by his side” after doing the job. (IANS)