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Zuckerberg Used Facebook User Data to Help Friends and Hurt Competitors

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  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once considered 100 deals with app developers to potentially sell user data in an attempt to learn the “real market value” of the information, according to an NBC News report.
  • The report cites around 4,000 pages of leaked internal Facebook documents that show that the company instead opted to use the data as a bargaining chip to reward apps that purchased ads, were close friends of executives, or shared data with them in return.

The Report

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once considered selling the company’s user data to third-party app developers to find out just how much the user’s data is worth, all while publically claiming to be protecting that same data.

NBC News released a report Tuesday, saying it had obtained around 4,000 pages of leaked company documents spanning from 2011 to 2015. The documents contained emails, web chats, presentations, spreadsheets, and meeting summaries which reportedly showed that Zuckerberg and his team found ways to leverage Facebook user data to companies it partnered with.

It’s not uncommon for companies to work together to share information about customers, however, Facebook has access to sensitive data that many other companies don’t have access to, like information about friends, relationships, photos, and more.

In some cases, NBC News said that Facebook would reward favored companies by giving them access to the data of its users. It would then deny that same data to rival companies or apps that were not considered “strategic partners.”

For instance, Facebook gave Amazon extended access to user data because Amazon had invested heavily in Facebook advertising and partnered with the company for the launch of the Fire smartphone.

By contrast, Facebook reportedly discussed cutting the app, MessageMe, off from user data access. Facebook’s reasoning was that the app had grown too popular and was now a competitor.

Protecting User Data

All the while, Facebook was publically creating a narrative around its concern for user trust, promising to prioritizer data protections.

Private communication between users is “increasingly important,” Zuckerberg said in a 2014 New York Times interview. “Anything we can do that makes people feel more comfortable is really good.”

However, the documents show that behind the scenes, the company was formulating ways to require third-party applications to compensate them for access to user data, through direct payment, spending on advertising, or data sharing agreements.

Facebook Wants to Maintain Its Dominance

Zuckerberg reportedly talked about pursuing 100 deals to sell data access to developers, “as a path to figuring out the real market value” of Facebook user data and then “setting a public rate” for developers, NBC reported.

“The goal here wouldn’t be the deals themselves, but that through the process of negotiating with them we’d learn what developers would actually pay (which might be different from what they’d say if we just asked them about the value), and then we’d be better informed on our path to set a public rate,” Zuckerberg wrote in a message.

In the end, Facebook decided against selling data directly and instead opted to share it with app developers who were considered “friends” of Zuckerberg, or who invested heavily on Facebook and shared their own valuable data in return.

According to NBC, Zuckerberg “noted that though Facebook could charge developers to access user data, the company stood to benefit more from requiring developers to compensate Facebook in kind — with their own data — and by pushing those developers to pay for advertising on Facebook’s platform.”

The companies ultimate goal was to ensure that Facebook held onto its dominant position in the market.

Facebook Calls Documents Cherry-Picked

Facebook has denied giving any developers or partners preferential treatment because of their spending or personal relationships with executives. Instead, the company told NBC News that its focus on “full reciprocity” was to enable users to share their experiences within outside apps with their Facebook friends.

The company also did not question the authenticity of the documents, which stem from a California court case between Facebook and Six4Three.

Six4Three developed an app called Pikinis, which let people pay to find pictures of users in swimsuits. Six4Three’s app was shut down in 2015 after Facebook changed its policies around the sharing of user data with third-party app developers.

Facebook said the documents are “cherry-picked” and misleading.

“As we’ve said many times, Six4Three — creators of the Pikinis app — cherry picked these documents from years ago as part of a lawsuit to force Facebook to share information on friends of the app’s users,” Paul Grewal, vice president and deputy general counsel at Facebook, said in a statement released by the company.

“The set of documents, by design, tells only one side of the story and omits important context. We still stand by the platform changes we made in 2014/2015 to prevent people from sharing their friends’ information with developers like the creators of Pikinis. The documents were selectively leaked as part of what the court found was evidence of a crime or fraud to publish some, but not all, of the internal discussions at Facebook at the time of our platform changes. But the facts are clear: we’ve never sold people’s data.”

See what others are saying (NBC News) (CNBC) (The Street)

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Pinkwashing: The Dark Side of the Breast Cancer Awareness Industry Explained…

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Chances are you’ve seen a handful of breast cancer awareness campaigns throughout the years from the pink ribbon slapped on NFL footballs to your favorite yogurt brand changing their packing to pink every October, which is breast cancer awareness month. But did you know that there are many pink ribbon products that contain chemicals linked to cancer? 

Breast cancer activists call this phenomenon pinkwashing and it’s been happening for years. Whether it be a carcinogenic chemical found in pink ribbon perfume to pink ribbons found on alcohol, a known risk factor for breast cancer, pinkwashing touches many industries. In this deep dive, we’re going to look at why companies want to pinkwash and why it has changed how people around the world participate in breast cancer awareness campaigns. 

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Pinterest, The Knot, and Brides Will No Longer Promote Plantation Weddings

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  • Pinterest and The Knot, popular sites used for wedding planning, agreed to stop promoting content and venues that romanticize slave plantations. 
  • The decision was made after the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change penned a letter to the companies explaining the pain and insensitivity behind glamorizing properties once used to brutalize people. 
  • Brides magazine has since also agreed to enact a similar policy, though sites like Zola said promoting such content does not violate their discrimination policy.

Criticism of Plantation Weddings 

Two of the biggest internet platforms used for wedding content and planning, Pinterest and The Knot, are changing their policies to stop promoting any wedding content that romanticizes slave plantations. 

Plantation weddings have become very common in the wedding industry, however, they are often criticized for glorifying sites that were once used to enslave and brutalize millions of black people. 

Celebrities like Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds still face criticism for hosting their 2012 wedding at Boone Hall Plantation in South Carolina. In addition to being a popular wedding venue, the property also offers history tours of its original slave cabins.

Other venues have been blasted for using decorative language that critics say minimizes the painful history of the locations. For instance, some properties have been described as “breathtaking” scenes with an “elaborate past,” or were said to have “a touch of southern charm.”

Policy Changes 

The decision to implement policy changes comes at the urging of the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change. The group sent letters to Pinterest and the Knot Worldwide, which owns The Knot and Wedding Wire, asking the companies to stop promoting plantations altogether. 

“The decision to glorify plantations as nostalgic sites of celebration is not an empowering one for the Black women and justice-minded people who use your site,” the letter, reviewed by Buzzfeed News, read. 

“Plantations are physical reminders of one of the most horrific human rights abuses the world has ever seen,” the letter continued. “The wedding industry routinely denies the violent conditions Black people faced under chattel slavery by promoting plantations as romantic places to marry.”

Pinterest responded to the letter with their own announcement, saying, “Weddings should be a symbol of love and unity. Plantations represent none of those things. We are grateful to Color of Change for bringing attention to this disrespectful practice. We are working to limit the distribution of this content and accounts across our platform, and continue to not accept advertisements for them.”

Pinterest has already started moderating and limiting plantation wedding content on its platform that appeared in search recommendations and notifications. It is also working to de-index Google searches for plantation weddings that direct to their site. 

Users call still search “plantation weddings” and similar terms on the site but they will be warned that some of the results may violate the site’s policies.

Source: Pinterest

Meanwhile, the Knot said it was working with Color of Change to prohibit vendors on its sites “from using language that romanticizes or glorifies a history that includes slavery.” Vendors who do not follow that rule will be removed, the company said.

“Color of Change brought an issue to light about the way venues with a history of slavery describe their properties to couples,” the Knot said in a statement. “We’re grateful to Color of Change for bringing this issue to us and for partnering with us to help educate our vendors on how to respectfully market their businesses to all couples.”

The Knot clarified that plantations will still be able to list themselves as venues. Their new guidelines are simply designed to ensure that vendors aren’t using language such as “elegant” or “charming” when referencing history that includes slavery. 

The language policy will apply to all venues listed on the Knot, not just ones that market themselves as plantations. A representative from the Knot told Buzzfeed New,  “You can imagine there could be former plantations that maybe have changed their names to manors or farms.”

The Knot’s new guidelines are expected to be officially released in the next few weeks as they continue to comb through the current vendors listed on their site. 

Color of Change Reached Out to Other Wedding Content Giants 

Along with the Knot and Pinterest, Color of Change also sent letters to Zola, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Brides. The group said they specifically called on these platforms to make a change because millions of couples turn to them for not only wedding inspiration but also information about potential vendors. 

Color of Change also argued that because these wedding planning platforms don’t profit directly from weddings themselves, they might be more motivated to hear their concerns. 

A spokesperson for Color of Change called Pinterest and the Knot’s efforts an “extremely massive step.” Following the news of two platform’s changes, the spokesperson added that Brides also reached out and requested a meeting.

Brides later issued a statement to Bustle saying, “Brides is an inclusive place where everyone can feel celebrated. Content glorifying plantations is not in line with our core values. We have removed these references and are actively working with Color of Change to evolve our guidelines to help ensure all our couples are supported, respected and inspired.”

As for the other platforms, in a statement to BuzzFeed News, Emily Forrest, a communications manager for Zola responded with: “After reviewing this complaint we determined it did not violate our non-discrimination policy. While we may not always agree with couples on all of their wedding details, we also respect their right to choose where and how they want to get married.”

As of now, Martha Stewart Weddings has not responded to the letter. 

See what others are saying: (Buzzfeed News) (The Washington Post) (Bustle)  

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Chick-fil-A Stops Donations Long-Criticized by LGBTQ Activists

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  • Chick-fil-A announced a new donation policy, listing a smaller number of groups it plans on giving to in 2020, which notably does not include Christian groups with anti-LGBTQ ties like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Salvation Army. 
  • Some applauded the move, while others were upset and saw it as Chick-fil-A abandoning their Christian morals. 
  • Their new donation plan, however, only accounts for 2020. They will reassess charities annually and said they could still donate to religiously affiliated groups in the future. 

Chick-Fil-A Announces New Donations Policy

Chick-fil-A announced its 2020 charity donations on Monday, prompting widespread reactions and backlash online.

The fast-food giant said that going into the new year, it will start giving to a “smaller number of organizations working exclusively in the areas of education, homelessness and hunger.” In order to do so, it will partner with Junior Achievement USA, Covenant House International, and local food banks in 120 communities. 

Notably missing from the list, however, were Christian organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army. Chick-fil-A has come under fire for donating to these groups in the past due to their anti-LGBTQ views.

On their website, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes states that “sexual intimacy is to be expressed only within the context of marriage” and then defines marriage as “between one man and one woman.” On their student leader application form, they require applicants to sign a sexual purity statement, which states that “homosexual acts” are a sin. 

In 2012, the Salvation Army came under fire when a spokesperson implied that gay people deserved to die in a radio interview with Australian reporters. Today, the Salvation Army has a page on its website devoted to helping the LGBTQ homeless population.

“The Salvation Army is committed to serving the LGBTQ community through,” their site says.

The company used to donate to more groups with similar ideologies but stopped giving to several throughout the years. Still, since Chick-fil-A continued to give regularly and generously to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army, many boycotted them for supporting charities with anti-LGBTQ stances.

In the last year alone, the company has canceled the opening of a location in Buffalo, New York after backlash, announced the closure of its first UK location just days after it opened, and saw massive protests when it opened a Toronto location. 

Reactions to Announcement

Some applauded Chick-fil-A for making this decision, seeing it as them stepping back from anti-LGBTQ groups. Many who had previously boycotted the location said they were excited to finally eat there.

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Some, however, were a bit more cautious. One person said that just because they have made this one move “doesn’t mean they have suddenly changed.”

The Salvation Army released a statement that did not mention Chick-Fil-A by name, but expressed disappointment with the choice.

“We’re saddened to learn that a corporate partner has felt it necessary to divert funding to other hunger, education and homelessness organizations — areas in which The Salvation Army, as the largest social services provider in the world, is already fully committed,” the statement said. “We serve more than 23 million individuals a year, including those in the LGBTQ+ community.” 

“In fact, we believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ population,” the Salvation Army continued. “When misinformation is perpetuated without fact, our ability to serve those in need, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or any other factor, is at risk.”

They were not the only ones upset with Chick-Fil-A about this. Some customers, including Mike Huckabee, saw it as the company abandoning their Christian values and betraying its core clientele. 

Some found this backlash to not add up, noting that the causes Chick-fil-A still plans to donate to do connect to Christian morals. 

Popeyes Speculation

Many online also tied this to the other major reason Chick-fil-A has made headlines recently: its ongoing sandwich war with Popeyes. They noted that the timing of this announcement comes right as Popeyes brought their popular chicken sandwich back into stores. 

A report from Business Insider, however, says that this is not the case. A representative from Chick-fil-A told them their donations have nothing to do with Popeyes and have been in the works prior to the sandwich wars. 

Potential Future Donations

As far as Chick-fil-A’s donation policy, it still does open the door for the company to donate to groups like the Salvation Army or Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the future. Their latest announcement only applies to 2020 donations.

Their statement said that going forward, Chick-fil-A will “reassess its philanthropic partnerships annually to allow maximum impact. These partners could include faith-based and non-faith-based charities.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Associated Press) (The Washington Post)

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