LONDON — Senior Facebook executives allegedly blocked rivals from accessing the companys user data to maintain dominance over vast swathes of the digital world, according to internal Facebook documents published Wednesday.
The documents made public by the British parliament also show that Mark Zuckerberg, the companys chief executive, and other senior officials discussed strategies to demand that companies buy digital advertising on the social networking giant, or face being cut off from lucrative user data that had helped these businesses target people on the platform.
The executives similarly talked about asking companies that accessed Facebook data to share their own data with the social network if they wanted to retain access to Facebooks trove of information on its users worldwide.
The allegations come as pressure mounts on the social networks collection, storage and use of peoples data, including the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the British data analytics firm gained illegal access to information on 87 million Facebook users.
Facebook denies any wrongdoing and says that the documents published by the British parliament give a misleading picture of what took place. Cambridge Analytica also insists that it did nothing wrong.
The documents lie at the heart of a lengthy U.S. lawsuit brought by the start-up Six4Three against the social networking giant.
Wednesdays disclosures, however, will likely ratchet up the pressure on Facebook as they provide internal documents, including from Zuckerberg, the companys 34-year-old co-founder, that allegedly portray the company using its control over peoples photos, contact lists and other personal information to maintain a competitive advantage over rivals.
In an email chain from early 2013, for instance, Zuckerberg gave his approval to cut off data access to Vine, a now-defunct rival video-sharing service run by Twitter, because the product allowed users to find friends on Facebook. Justin Osofsky, a Facebook vice-president, wrote in an email: “Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends API access today,” in reference to Vines access to Facebooks data feed.
Zuckerberg replied: “Yup, go for it.”
The documents lie at the heart of a lengthy U.S. lawsuit brought by the start-up Six4Three against the social networking giant. Six4Three had allowed people to view bikini pictures of their friends through Facebook, and sued when its access to data was cut. The company had repeatedly tried to make the internal documents from Facebook public in the United States, but had been rebuffed by a Californian judge.
But when Six4Threes boss was in London recently on business, Damian Collins, a U.K. lawmaker, used antiquated laws that allow the U.K. parliament to make forced seizures, to acquire the documents.
In U.K. parliamentary testimony last week, Richard Allan, a senior Facebook lobbyist, told lawmakers the internal documents had been taken out of context, but refused to give further evidence due to the ongoing gag order issued against the documents by the U.S. court.
In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg defended the actions that he and others had taken, saying that they had decided against demanding companies pay for ads for continued access to peoples data. “I understand there is a lot of scrutiny on how we run our systems,” he wrote.
“Its important that the coverage of what we do — including the explanation of these internal documents — doesnt misrepresent our actions or motives.”
Despite Facebooks denials, the internal corporate documents suggest that the company was actively using data access as leverage over rival companies and those eager to access Facebooks global user base.
In email discussions from late 2012, Zuckerberg also outlined why he believed that Facebook should push for so-called data reciprocity with companies that wanted to build their own digital services on top of the companys global social network. The idea, outlined in several email chains, was that other companies would still be able to access Facebooks data archives to build their products, as long as they allowed Facebook to similarly access their information.
“Full reciprocity means that apps are required to give any user who connects to FB a prominent option to share all of their social content within that service back to Facebook,” Zuckerberg wrote.