NEWS6 December 2018

Parliament releases Facebook documents

Data analytics Media News North America Privacy Technology UK

UK – The parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee has published a cache of internal Facebook documents as part of an inquiry into disinformation and fake news.

Person holding phone with Facebook login screen

The cache of over 200 pages containing internal emails, obtained by parliament, was released last night.

According to a summary note from Damian Collins, chair of the DCMS committee, the documents showed Facebook had ‘whitelisted’ certain companies to allow them greater access to data, including users’ friends. "It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not," wrote Collins.

The ‘whitelisted’ companies include Netflix and Lyft, according to the documents.

Facebook said the documents only represent one side of the story and omit "important context".

The company wrote in a statement: "The documents were selectively leaked to publish some, but not all, of the internal discussions at Facebook at the time of our platform changes." It also maintained it had never sold users’ data.

Facebook changed its platform policies in 2014/15 to prevent apps from requesting permission to access friends’ information. The company said it had allowed developers in some cases to access a list of users’ friends, but that this did not include private information other than names and profile pictures.

Collins said in a tweet there is "considerable public interest" in releasing the 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."

The committee released the documents as it had not received "straight answers" from Facebook to its questions, he added.

In a post on his personal Facebook page, the company’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote: "I understand there is a lot of scrutiny on how we run our systems. That’s healthy given the vast number of people who use our services around the world, and it is right that we are constantly asked to explain what we do. But it’s also important that the coverage of what we do – including the explanation of these internal documents – doesn't misrepresent our actions or motives."