Let’s take a trip down memory lane. It’s April of this year and Facebook is just beginning to feel the heat for the Cambridge Analytica fallout–when it became known that third parties were able to access user data en masse. Mark Zuckerberg took a call with members of the press–one of many he’s done over the last year–and talked broadly about the company’s aims and ethics.
“For some reason, we haven’t been able to kick this notion, for years, that people think that we sell data to advertisers,” Zuckerberg said. “We don’t.” He said an almost identical statement to Congress days later. Despite these vehement denials, it turns out the company had considered it.
Internal emails viewed by the Wall Street Journal show the company between 2012 and 2014 discussing whether or not it should charge other businesses for access its user data. For years, Facebook gave these clients unfettered access to user information if they plugged into the platform’s API. These emails show the company considering only giving that access to top spenders. One anonymous employee recommended no longer offering data “in one-go to all apps that don’t spend . . . at least $250K a year to maintain access to the data,” according the Journal.
A Facebook spokesperson told the newspaper that these emails were merely internal conversations when the company was figuring out how to grow up. “We were trying to figure out how to build a sustainable business,” they said.
Overall the emails, which are part of a larger evidence trove amassed by British lawmakers, show Facebook considering doing the one thing it has always maintained it never did. While the company never followed through with these plans, it does shine a light on how Facebook viewed the data it collected. Data was always its currency. Whether or not the company decided against this course of action is unimportant; Facebook’s business model still–and always has–puts its users last and advertisers first.
Facebook’s long game was to gather as much user information as possible and capitalize on it. These documents show that it considered selling it wholesale. In the end, the outcome was the same: Trust was breached.
You can read the full Wall Street Journal article here.