Facebook wielded user data to reward, punish rivals, emails show

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The conversation centered around an internal push to change which data Facebook's Android app had access to, to grant the software the ability to record a user's text messages and call history, to interact with bluetooth beacons installed by physical stores, and to offer better customized friend suggestions and news feed rankings.

Following a lawsuit against the social media giant, Facebook has today had some 250 pages worth of internal emails released to the public by the UK Parliament.

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

"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", Collins wrote in the report.

"Yup, go for it", Zuckerberg responded.

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Facebook's director of developer platforms and programs Konstantinos Papamiltiadis told AFP last week that the company "has never sold anyone's data".

In a response posted on its blog, Facebook said that whitelists are a common part of testing new features with a limited group of partners before a broader rollout.

The U.K. committee seized the documents from app developer Six4Three, maker of a now-defunct bikini-picture search app. Six4Three acquired the files as part of a US lawsuit that accuses Facebook of deceptive, anti-competitive business practices.

The release of the internal documents adds to Facebook's challenges as it wrestles with issues as varied as how it enabled the spread of misinformation and whether it properly safeguarded the data of its users.

The documents' publication coincides with a more hawkish shift in public opinion toward online collection of user data, prompted partly by revelations this year of how the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica misused Facebook users' information. Kramer is suing Facebook because of a decision it made in 2014 to prevent developers from peeping into friends' data.

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In 2013, such information showed that messaging program WhatsApp was more popular than Facebook's Messenger app and a year later Facebook purchased WhatsApp. The app also sent valuable data on what types of apps people were downloading back to Facebook. Damien Geradin, a Brussels-based lawyer at Euclid Law, said the refusal of access to Vine data could be seen as a "potential refusal to deal" with rivals, "but you would need to show that Facebook" is essential to users and it is "not clear it is".

The committee's seizure of the documents, which were under seal by a court in the United States, came after the CEO of Six4Three, Theodore Kramer, was threatened with arrest while on a business trip to London if he didn't hand over the material.

For instance, in 2013, the Royal Bank of Canada wanted to launch a new payments app, which would get more people signed up if the bank could tap into friends' lists on Facebook.

"The idea of linking access to friends' data to the financial value of the developers' relationship with Facebook is a recurring feature of the documents", Collins said.

"These developers do not want to participate in the ecosystem we have created, but rather build their own ecosystem at the expense of our users, other developers and, of course, us". According to Bloomberg, the California courts sealed the emails, but the United Kingdom compelled the Six4Three founder to hand over a laptop containing the emails, which were acquired during discovery, when the founder visited London.

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