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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.”

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Apple Raises Worker Pay as Unions Gain Ground

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The company’s vice president of people and retail was caught trying to dissuade employees from unionizing in a leaked video.


Labor Squeezes Apple into Submission

Apple announced Wednesday that its U.S. corporate and retail employees will see a pay increase later this year, with starting wages bumped from $20 per hour to $22, though stores in certain regions may get more depending on market conditions.

Starting salaries are also expected to increase.

“Supporting and retaining the best team members in the world enables us to deliver the best, most innovative, products and services for our customers,” an Apple spokesman said in a statement. “This year as part of our annual performance review process, we’re increasing our overall compensation budget.”

Some workers were told their annual reviews would be moved up three months and that their pay increases would take effect in early July, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, they were told the increased compensation budget would be in addition to pay increases and special awards already received within the past year.

Feeling squeezed by low unemployment and high inflation, tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have changed their compensation structures in recent weeks to pay workers more, and Apple is the latest to bend to market pressure.

Unions Gaining Traction

On Wednesday, The Verge received a leaked video of Apple’s vice president of people and retail, Deirdre O’Brien, explicitly dissuading employees from unionizing.

“I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship,” she said. “An organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business. And most importantly one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”

She vocalized more anti-union talking points, like the idea that the company will not be able to make important decisions as quickly with a collective bargaining agreement.

O’Brien has been personally visiting retail stores over the past few weeks in an apparent bid to combat budding union activity.

Apple stores in three locations — New York, Georgia, and Maryland — are currently pushing to unionize, with the latter two set to vote in elections on June 2 and 15, respectively. In response to these efforts, Apple has hired anti-union lawyers, given managers anti-union scripts, and held anti-union captive audience meetings.

In the United States, unionized workers make about 13.2% more than non-unionized workers in the same sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

As of Wednesday, Apple’s shares had fallen 21% since the start of the year, but sales grew 34% last year to almost $300 billion.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (CNBC) (The Verge)

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Employees at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software Form First Union at a Major Gaming Company

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Organizers say the decision has the potential to upend labor practices in the gaming industry.


Raven Software QA Testers Win Union Bid

A group of 28 workers at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software voted to form the first-ever union at a major U.S. gaming company. 

While the Game Workers Alliance is a small union, organizers in the space say its formation represents a major shift for the gaming industry and will encourage others in the sector to follow suit.

The newly unionized workers are quality insurance (QA) testers working at the Wisconsin-based studio to develop “Call of Duty.” QA testers work to sort out any glitches in games, and the jobs are notoriously known for extreme crunch periods where staffers work long stretches of hours before a game’s release.

During crunch periods, employees are regularly given 12- to 14-hour shifts with just a few days off each month in order to meet release deadlines.

Many QA testers have said they are treated as second-class to others in the industry. They are paid much lower — often minimum wage or close to it — work on contract cycles and, as a result, feel disposable.

That particular sentiment was underscored for workers at Raven Software in December when the company ended the contracts of about a dozen QA testers. The decision prompted the remaining QA testers to hold a walkout and, shortly after that, they began organizing to form a union, which they dubbed the Game Workers Alliance.

Activision’s Battle Against Unionization Effort

Activision did not support the push for unionization and actively fought against it. The company refused to voluntarily recognize the union, and just days after the group filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, it moved QA testers to different departments across its properties.

Activision also announced it would convert over 1,000 temporary QA workers to full-time employees, give them a pay raise to $20 an hour, and provide more benefits. However, management said the move would not apply to the unionizing workers because, under federal law, they could not try to encourage workers from voting against unionization by offering pay hikes or benefits. Union leaders repudiated that argument.

Additionally, Activision fought against the union petition, arguing that any union would need to include all of the studio’s employees, but the Labor Board rejected the claim and let the effort proceed.

According to multiple reports, Activision management continued to push against the union in the weeks leading up to the vote. Some Raven employees told The Washington Post company leaders had suggested at a town hall meeting that unionization could hurt game development and impact promotions and benefits. The following day, the managers allegedly sent an email urging workers to “vote no.” 

On Monday, Labor Board prosecutors announced they had determined that Activision illegally threatened workers and enforced a social media policy that violated bargaining rights. Activision denied the new allegations.

The two parties will have until the end of the month to file an objection, and if none are filed, the union becomes official. It is currently unclear how Activision and Raven will respond, but they have signaled that they might not make the transition period easy for the union.

According to internal documents seen by Bloomberg, the company has repeatedly mentioned that it can take a while for a union to negotiate its first contract.

In a statement following the vote, an Activision spokesperson told The Post that the company respects the right of its employees to vote for or against a union, but added: “We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 of Raven employees. We’re committed to doing what’s best for the studio and our employees.”

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Uber Forks Over $19 Million in Fine for Misleading Australian Riders

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The penalty is just the latest in a string of lawsuits going back years.


Uber Gets Fined

Uber has agreed to pay a $19 million fine after being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making false or misleading statements in its app.

The first offense stems from a company policy that allows users to cancel their ride at no cost up to five minutes after the driver has accepted the trip. Despite the terms, between at least December 2017 and September 2021, over two million Australians who wanted to cancel their ride were nevertheless warned that they may be charged a small fee for doing so.

Uber said in a statement that almost all of those users decided to cancel their trips despite the warnings.

The cancellation message has since been changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancellation fee.”

The second offense, occurring between June 2018 and August 2020, involved the company showing customers in Sydney inflated estimates of taxi fares on the app.

The commission said that Uber did not ensure the algorithm used to calculate the prices was accurate, leading to actual fares almost always being higher than estimated ones.

The taxi fare feature was removed in August 2020.

A Troubled Legal History

Uber has been sued for misleading its users or unfairly charging customers in the past.

In 2016, the company paid California-based prosecutors up to $25 million for misleading riders about the safety of its service.

An investigation at the time found that at least 25 of Uber’s approved drivers had serious criminal convictions including identity theft, burglary, child sex offenses and even one murder charge, despite background checks.

In 2017, the company also settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $20 million after it misled drivers about how much money they could earn.

In November 2021, the Justice Department sued the company for allegedly charging disabled customers a wait-time fee even though they needed more time to get in the car, then refused to refund them.

Later the same month, a class-action lawsuit in New York alleged that Uber charged riders a final price higher than the upfront price listed when they ordered the ride.

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