The Industry

Report: Facebook Gave Certain Companies Special Access to User Data

A Facebook billboard.
Internal emails apparently showed agreements to whitelist certain companies.
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

A British parliamentary committee released more than 200 pages of emails and internal documents Wednesday that reportedly show that Facebook gave special access to user data to select companies like Netflix, Airbnb, and Lyft.

The documents, which were retrieved as part of a lawsuit between Facebook and an app developer, reveal internal communications from 2012 to 2015. During this period of time, Facebook had been implementing policies to restrict companies’ access to certain types of data, such as that belonging to users’ friends. However, it appears that Facebook exempted some companies from the policy.

In other emails, Facebook employees debated whether to give extended data access to app developers that paid for advertising on the platform. They also considered limiting data access to competitors.

“Facebook have clearly entered into whitelisting agreements with certain companies, which meant that after the platform changes in 2014/15 they maintained full access to friends data,” member of Parliament Damian Collins wrote in a statement. “It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not.”

Collins’ remarks largely reflect the allegations of app developer Six4Three that Facebook was giving preferential treatment to major advertisers. The developer is currently involved in a legal battle with Facebook in federal court in San Mateo County, California. The court had placed a seal on the documents, but Six4Three founder Ted Kramer took digital copies of them to the United Kingdom. Collins sent Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms to take custody of the documents, thus circumventing the California court’s seal.

“We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends’ data with developers,” a Facebook spokesperson told the Washington Post. “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.”

Last week, when a small number of the documents Six4Three obtained became public, Facebook argued that they had been cherry-picked and were “very misleading without additional context.”