Internal Documents From Facebook Expose User Data Mining

The British Parliament released almost 250 internal documents from Facebook on Wednesday regarding data mining users

  • Emails show Facebook employees trying to access Android users call logs without prompting a permissions request

  • Multiple companies were “whitelisted” for user data from Facebook

  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave permission to no longer allow Twitter access friend data after they created Vine

  • Facebook claims the documents were cherry-picked to put them in a negative spotlight

The British Parliament released nearly 250 damning internal documents from Facebook that gives an inside look at data mining users while trying to keep them unaware, “whitelisting” certain companies for revenue and interfering with competitor platforms.


The documents include emails between COO Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg as they prepared for the 2014-2015 platform change. In the documents, Facebook is caught making whitelisting agreements with certain app developers to access user data, including how users are friends on the platform.

The increased release of private data gave more money to app developers, in return, Facebook acquired more data about the use of third-party apps. The company went as far as to harvest information from user’s phones in order to try and learn how people used their mobile devices. Android users were hit the hardest.

In the emails, Facebook was attempting to figure out how to access data such as call logs without alerting Android users with user permission requests. A Facebook employee by the name of Michael LeBeau warned that if users saw a permission request for call log data it could be a PR nightmare that would result in memes and journalists digging into their data mining.

This is a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it.

Separately, Gravity team had been intending to ship the Bluetooth permission on Android at the same time – in fact we’d already delayed to accommodate more permissions from the growth team, but we didn’t realize it was going to be something this risky. We think the risk of PR fallout here is high, and there’s some chance that Bluetooth will get pulled into the PR fallout. Screenshot of the scary Android permissions screen becomes a meme (as it has in the past), propagates around the Web, it gets press attention, and enterprising journalists dig into what exactly the new update is requesting., then writes stories about “Facebook uses new Android update to pry into your private life in ever more terrifying ways – reading your call logs, tracking you in businesses with beacons, etc.”

Yul Kwon responded to LeBeau’s inquiry and tried to give peace of mind by stating that the “Growth team” was working on a path to update the Andriod app and bypass any permissions dialog at all.

Also, the Growth team is now exploring a path where we only request Read Call Log permission and hold off on requesting any other permissions for now.

based on their initial testing, it seems that this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them toan Android permissions dialog at all.

It would still be a breaking change, so users would have to click to upgrade, but no permissions dialog screen. They’re trying to finish testing by tomorrow to see if the behavior holds true across different versions of Android.

Aside from secretly mining data from users, the emails show backdoor deals being made between Facebook and companies such as Netflix and Badoo. Emails between Konstantinos Papamiltiadis and Tinder showed a negotiation for Facebook to use the term “Moments,” which had already been protected by Tinder.

In an email between Zuckerberg and Facebook executive Justin Osofsky, the CEO gave permission to cut off a competitor’s access to data. After Twitter released the Vine app in 2013, Zuckerberg gave the okay to cut the company off from friends data. “Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends API access today,” Osofsky wrote in an email. Zuckerberg responded, “Yup, go for it.”

Damian Collins, Conservative MP and Chairman of the Digital Culture, Media and Science Committee is who released the documents. Collins said the documents raise important questions about how Facebook treats user data.

I believe there is considerable public interest in releasing these documents. 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.

Facebook claimed to the New York Times that the papers had been “cherry-picked” to bash the company and kept with the claim that they have never sold user data.

Like any business, we had many 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.



About Meko Haze

Meko Haze is an independent journalist by day... and an independent journalist by night.

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