Zuckerberg Used Facebook User Data to Help Friends and Hurt Competitors
- 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.
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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Amazon to Pay Over $30 Million for Alexa and Ring Privacy Violations
Privacy violation charges stack up against the tech giant as the FTC partners up with the DOJ.
Amazon Pays Up
Amazon agreed to a $30 million settlement for each of these complaints over complaints alleging that its Alexa and Ring products violated customer privacy.
The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department accused Amazon of retaining children’s geolocation data as well as the recordings of their conversations with Alexa. Additionally, the FTC brought another complaint against Amazon’s Ring for violating their customers’ privacy and failing to complement basic security measures.
In addition to the accusations of retaining data, the FTC also charges Amazon with deceiving their customers, saying requests from parents to delete their children’s recordings and other data went ignored despite repeated assurances that parents can delete the data at any time.
Amazon says this data was retained to train their Alexa algorithms to better understand children. But their reasoning does not change law. Their actions are still in violation of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA.
“Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and flouting parents’ deletion requests violated COPPA and sacrificed privacy for profits,” said Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in the press release regarding the complaint. “COPPA does not allow companies to keep children’s data forever for any reason, and certainly not to train their algorithms.”
The Settlement’s Details
The proposed settlement that Amazon agreed to on Wednesday includes a $25 million civil penalty as well as requirements to both delete the data in question and never use voice recordings of adults or children in the development or creation of a product again.
However approval on this settlement is still needed from the federal courts.
Despite agreeing to the settlement, Amazon denies violating COPPA, saying they designed Amazon Kids for parents to have full control and to comply with the law.
In their complaint against Ring, the FTC accused the company of violating their customers’ privacy by allowing countless employees and hundreds of contractors access to the videos from Ring cameras.
Leading to situations like one in 2017, when a Ring employee watched thousands of videos belonging to dozens of female customers, including those in their bedrooms and bathrooms.
Additionally, the FTC says that Ring did not implement basic security protections for years which allowed hackers to take control of their customers’ accounts, cameras, and videos leading to 55,000 US Ring customers facing hacker attacks. In some cases, hackers could access Ring’s two-way functions to harass, insult, and threaten people – including children. The complaint alleges that Ring’s egregious privacy failings lasted for at least 4 years – between at least 2016 to 2020.
Amazon responded to the complaint saying that RIng had addressed the concerns before the FTC even began their inquiry.
The FTC proposed a settlement of $5.8 million in consumer refunds – as well as a demand for Ring to create a privacy and security program. The settlement also awaits federal court approval.
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Right-Wingers Are Turning Against Chick-fil-A
Some have accused the company of joining a woke “cult” after learning of its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative.
Chick-fil-A Goes “Woke”
Conservatives are condemning Chick-fil-A after learning of the fast food chain’s commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Some have accused the brand of bowing “to the Woke mob.” Others have debated boycotting the chain.
It’s unclear when exactly Chick-fil-A began its DEI campaign, but according to LinkedIn, the current Vice President of DEI, Erick McReynolds, has been working in the department since 2020 before taking on his current role in 2021. It is also unclear why right-wingers on Twitter have just now discovered Chick-fil-A’s DEI website, but many spent a chunk of Tuesday morning lambasting the company for working to promote diversity.
Chick-fil-A’s DEI page is titled “Committed to being Better at Together.”
“Modeling care for others starts in the restaurant, and we are committed to ensuring mutual respect, understanding and dignity everywhere we do business,” McReynolds said in a statement on the website.
Chick-fil-A is no stranger to boycott campaigns, though those efforts usually come from the opposite side of the political aisle. The company, known for its strong Christian ties, has been criticized for donating to groups with anti-LGBTQ missions. As a result, many on the left have refused to eat there, while it has been a haven for those on the right.
Conservatives, however, have become increasingly outraged by DEI initiatives. Chick-fil-A’s website, which only vaguely outlines its DEI efforts, still seems to be enough for the right to change its tune about the brand.
“Even our beloved Chick-Fil-A has fallen to the DEI cult,” one person tweeted. “the same agenda that is turning our beloved military woke.”
“It’s becoming an epidemic that even Christian companies are being strong-armed to participate in,” the tweet continued.
Old Clip of Chairman Resurfaces
Some have also started resurfacing an old clip of Chick-fil-A Chairman Dan Cathy speaking on a panel about racism during the summer of 2020. During the discussion, he talked about repentance and said that if you ever see someone who needs their shoes shined, you should do it. He then walked over to a Black person on the panel, got on his knees, and shined their shoes.
“There’s a time in which we need to have, you know, some personal action here, and maybe we need to give them a hug, too,” Cathy said while shining the shoes.
“I bought about 1,500 of these and I gave them to all our Chick-fil-A operators and staff a number of years ago,” Cathy continued, in reference to his shoe-shining brush. “So, any expressions of a contrite heart, of a sense of humility, a sense of shame, a sense of embarrassment begat with an apologetic heart — I think that’s what our world needs to hear today.”
The clip caused a stir when the events first unfolded, and has prompted a new wave of anger now. Some are accusing Cathy of being “a woke, anti-American, anti-white BLM boot licker” who thinks all white people need to shamefully shine the shoes of Black people to apologize for racism, though that is not what he said.
These boycott calls are just the latest from conservatives who have been on a rampage against any company supporting any social cause they deem as “woke.” Earlier this year, the political right took a stand against Bud Light after it included a trans influencer in a sponsored Instagram post. Just last week, Target and Kohls faced boycotts over items in their Pride Month collections.
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Bioré Apologizes For Referencing School Shooting in Mental Health Ad Campaign
“Our tonality was completely inappropriate. We are so sorry,” the skincare brand said.
Video Faces Backlash
The skincare brand Bioré apologized this week for partnering with a school shooting survivor as part of its Mental Health Awareness Month campaign.
“We are committed to continuing our mental health mission, but we promise to do it in a better way,” the company said in an Instagram post on Sunday.
Last week, influencer and recent Michigan State University graduate Cecilee Max-Brown posted a video to TikTok sponsored by Bioré where she discussed the numerous challenges she had faced throughout the year. Among them was a school shooting on her college’s campus, which killed three people in February.
“Life has thrown countless obstacles at me this year, from the school shooting to having no idea what life is going to look like after college,” Max-Brown says in the video. “In honor of mental health awareness month, I’m partnering with Bioré skin care to strip away the stigma of anxiety.
“We want you to get it all out, not only what’s in your pores, but most importantly, what’s on your mind, too,” she continued.
In the 50-second video, Max-Brown went on to discuss more details about her mental health struggles, as well as how “seeing the effects of gun violence firsthand” has impacted her and led to “countless anxiety attacks.”
“I will never forget the feeling of terror that I had walking around campus for weeks in a place I considered home,” she said before closing the video by encouraging her followers to participate in Bioré’s mental health campaign.
The video ignited swift outrage from people who accused Bioré of using a school shooting to sell products. In its apology, the brand admitted the video was misguided.
In the past, Bioré said it has worked with influencers to discuss and reduce mental health stigmas, as the subject is a top priority for its consumers.
“This time, however, we did it the wrong way,” the company said. “We lacked sensitivity around an incredibly serious tragedy, and our tonality was completely inappropriate. We are so sorry.”
Max-Brown also apologized on TikTok, writing that the video was intended to spread awareness, not suggest a product fixed the struggles she has experienced as a result of the shooting.
“I did not mean to desensitize the traumatic event that took place as I know the effects that it has had on me and the Spartan community,” she wrote.
Max-Brown has since removed the initial sponsored video from her account.