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Facebook experienced several scandals during 2018

The employees of Facebook feel besieged.

Every few days there seems to be a new allegation or leak that makes the social network seem in the worst light and questions whether it poses a threat to its members, society and even democracy itself.

The most recent attack was a series of "confidential" internal emails posted online by MPs who refused to tell Mark Zuckerberg to testify.

As Damian Collins, chairman of the competent parliamentary committee, has formulated itIf they could not get "direct answers" from Mr. Zuckerberg, at least the emails might reveal how his company treats the users' data and protects their "dominant position".

Mr Collins claimed that the documents prove that after a border crossing designed to protect the privacy of its members, the social network continues to grant access to the data of friends to some preferred apps.

He added that the e-mails showed that the company had also tried to make users aware of privacy changes, and that it was researching smartphone users at home to identify and address competing apps.

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Emails written by Mark Zuckerberg were among those published by the parliamentary committee

Facebook published a bloody response to these and other allegations on Wednesday night.

The main reason for his defense is that the emails were "cherry-chunky" selected to paint a "wrong" picture of what really happened.

But is the counterattack on?

White Lists

One of the key obvious arguments from the documents was Facebook's repeated references to "whitelisting" – the process whereby users and their friends' data are made available to certain third parties, but not to others.

The background to this was that Facebook announced in April 2014 that it was planned to prevent developers from using information about friends of users as part of a policy called "putting people first".

Until then, each developer was able to create products that used birthdate, photos, genders, status updates, likes, and location check-ins from Facebook users.

While this access should be blocked, Facebook said that it would still allow apps to see who was in a user's friends list and their relevant profile pictures.

However, if developers wanted to include friends who did not use the same app, they now have to submit a request and pass a review.

New apps had to be applied immediately, and existing apps got a grace period of one year.

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Mr Zuckerberg recently held an 'empty chair' at a hearing by Mr Collins

However, Mr Collins said that the emails showed that some companies kept "full access to friends' data" after the 2015 deadline.

The documents certainly show that several apps were seeking extended rights – but it's not always clear what the bottom line was.

However, Facebook states that there has only been a "short-term" extension to the wealth of information about friends, in cases where apps need more time to adjust.

"It's common to help partners convert their apps to platform changes to prevent their apps from crashing or disrupting users."

In fact, in July, Facebook gave Congress a list of about 60 organizations to which it granted this privilege, saying at the time that in most cases it was limited to an additional six months.

Names have excluded some of the larger brands referenced in emails, including Netflix, Airbnb and Lyft.

As a result, if they were granted special rights, only full lists of friends' names and profile pictures were accessible.

However, since Facebook does not disclose which developers have these additional rights, it is impossible to know how much they are being offered.

Value of the data of friends

Facebook has long claimed that it has "never sold data from people".

Rather, it's said that most of the revenue comes from asking advertisers what kind of audience they want to address, and then directing their promotions to users who agree.

Mr Collins said the emails also showed that Facebook has repeatedly discussed ways to make money from accessing friends' data.

Mark Zuckerberg himself wrote the following in 2012: "I will be more on board with locking some parts of the platform, including the data of friends …". Without limiting the distribution or access to friends using this app, I do not believe I have no way to get developers to pay us at all except offer payment and ad networks. "

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Facebook says 2.3 billion people use their service at least once a month

The answer from Facebook is that it has tried many ways to build its business, but what ultimately matters is that it never billed developers for this type of service.

"Ultimately, we opted for a model where developers did not have to buy advertising … and we continued to provide the developer platform for free," he said.

But another email from Mr. Zuckerberg On the train, it becomes clear that his argument was that the more apps developed by developers, the more information people would share about themselves, which in turn would help Facebook make money.

And some users may be concerned that the result was for profit rather than concern for their privacy.

Android permissions

Another outstanding discovery was the fact that the Facebook team had no illusions that updating their Android app – which gave Facebook access to users' call and text messages – risked a media setback.

"This is a risky proposition from a PR perspective," wrote one executive, adding that this could lead to articles saying, "Facebook is using a new Android update to immerse itself in your privacy in ever more frightening ways ".

In the conversation that follows, people discussed testing a way in which users had to click a button to share the data without displaying an "Android permission dialog."

Mr Collins claims that the result is that the company has made it as hard as possible for users to be aware of privacy changes.

The defense of Facebook is that the change was still "opt-in" and was not done by default, and that users benefited from better suggestions as to who they could call from their apps.

"This was a discussion on how our decision to launch this opt-in feature would interact with our own Android OS entitlement screens," the company added.

"There was no discussion about avoiding asking people for permission."

Previously, the company defended its behavior in March after users discovered stored call logs in their Facebook activity archives and did not remember that they had given the social network permission to collect them.

Regardless of whether you accept the statement or not, it does not look good that those responsible were clearly feared that journalists could "learn" what the update was doing at all.

The risk is that this reinforces the impression that although Facebook wants its members to entrust it with their information, the company dislikes questioning their own behavior.

Surveying rivals

Part of the way through hundreds of text-heavy pages is a selection of diagrams.

They show how Facebook pursued the assets of social media competitors like WhatsApp – which it bought – and the viral video service Vine of Twitter, Vine, which decided to block access to some data.

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It is unlikely that many Onavo users will know Facebook's connections

This tracking was done through Onavo, an Israeli analytics company that acquired Facebook in 2013, and a free virtual private network app was provided.

VPNs are usually installed by users who want extra privacy.

Mr Collins accused Facebook of conducting his surveys without the knowledge of the customers.

The answer to this was that the app included a screen that said "Information about app usage" was collected and detailed.

It is true that the privacy policy of the app provides that information can be shared with "affiliates", including Facebook.

However, it is questionable how many of its millions of users have made an effort to go beyond the promise "to keep you and your information safe".

If Facebook does not hide anything, it's definitely curious that the app in Google Play will continue to be listed as Onavo rather than as a parent and only mentions the role of Facebook when users click on "Read More" link.

It's also notable that Apple banned the app from the App Store earlier this year because it's too intrusive.

Address competitors

You will not just become one of the largest companies in the world.

Therefore, Mr Collins' claim that Facebook has taken "aggressive positions" against rivals may not come as a surprise.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to what extent Mr. Zuckerberg is involved.

"We have a small list of strategic competitors that Mark personally reviewed," a memo announced.

"Apps produced by the companies listed on this list are subject to a number of limitations, and any use beyond that is prohibited without the mark-level signing."

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Politicians are under pressure to consider stricter rules for Facebook and other technology companies

As Vine has shown, he is ready to go a hard line.

When asked if Facebook Vines should cut off access to friends' data on the day of its launch in 2013 – before the later major crackdown – his response was brief.

"Yes, go."

Facebook points out that such behavior is normal.

"At the time, we decided to restrict apps built on our platform and replicate our core functions," he said in his response.

"These types of restrictions are common across the tech industry, with different platforms having their own variations, including YouTube, Twitter, Snap, and Apple."

However, it added that it now believes that the policy is "obsolete" and that it will be removed.

Too late for Vine, which closed in January 2017.

The problem with Facebook is that politicians now have another reason for new regulations to restrict the anti-competitive behavior of technology giants.

Digital Rights Campaigners also have new reasons to complain.

"Facebook proves to be unreliable and unable to build the world that they say they want to see," said Dr. Gus Hosein of Privacy International opposite the BBC.

"They show a pattern promoted by market dominance of fraudulent and exploitative behavior that must be stopped."