Internal, and confidential, Facebook documents containing revelations around how the business agreed to hand over data to household brands despite it being unclear whether there was any user consent to do so have been published by the UK government.
As part of an ongoing inquiry into fake news and the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) has shared excerpts from sensitive exchanges between Facebook execs and companies like Netflix, Airbnb, Lyft and dating apps Tinder and Badoo.
Around 250 pages have been published, some of which are marked as being 'highly confidential'. Facebook has opposed their publication, saying they were "only part of the story" and were presented in a way that was "very misleading".
The documents appear to show that after announcing plans in 2014 to shut down a tool that allowed apps to access the data of users' Facebook friends (who hadn't necessarily given permission), Facebook continued to 'whitelist' certain companies for a similar privilege on a case-for-case basis.
The data mined by Cambridge Analytica, gathered by way of a political quiz in 2014, exposed a loophole this API for political gain, then sold it (against Facebook's policy).
According to DCMS chair Damian Collins, Facebook "clearly entered into whitelisting agreements with certain companies" which meant after the platform changes in 2014/15 these companies maintained full access to friends' data.
He added: "It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not."
The fact the likes of Netflix and Tinder were offered a way to potentially still access data belonging to users' friends list after Facebook promised to clamp down on the practice is likely to prompt further questions from authorities and users around Facebook's commitment to user privacy.
The Drum has reached out to Netflix, Tinder and Lyft for comment.
What else do the documents reveal?
The documents under scrutiny were gathered by Six4Three, a startup tech firm which is embroiled in a lawsuit against Facebook. They were turned over to Westminster last week and Collins said they have been released "in the public interest".
Along with claims Facebook allowed some firms to maintain "full access" to users' friends data, Collins also noted that:
Execs, including Marc Zuckerberg, discussed the idea of linking access to friends data to the financial value of the developers relationship with Facebook
Facebook had been aware that an update to its Android app that let it collect records of users' calls and texts would be controversial. "To mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard as possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features," Collins wrote
Facebook used data provided by the Israeli analytics firm Onavo to determine which other mobile apps were being downloaded and used by the public. It then used this information to decide which apps to acquire or treat as a competitor
The files showed evidence of Facebook taking "aggressive positions" against rival apps, denying them access to data that caused their businesses to fail. Such examples included an engineer suggesting Faceboook shutting down Twitter-owned Vine's access to friends data, to which Zuckerberg replied "yup, go for it"
A Facebook spokesperson said: “As we've said many times, the documents Six4Three gathered for their baseless case are only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context.
"We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends' data with developers.
"Like any business, we had many of internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform. But the facts are clear: we've never sold people’s data."
You can read excepts from Facebook documents published by DCMS below: