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Facebook Struck Secret Deals To Sell Preferential User Data; Used VPN App To Spy On Competitors | Zero Hedge
Update: As the giant cache of newly released internal emails has also revealed, Karissa Bell of Mashable notes that Facebook used a VPN app to spy on its competitors.
The internal documents, made public as part of a cache of documents released by UK lawmakers, show just how close an eye the social network was keeping on competitors like WhatsApp and Snapchat, both of which became acquisition targets.
Facebook tried to acquire Snapchat that year for $3 billion — an offer Snap CEO Evan Spiegel rejected. (Facebook then spent years attempting, unsuccessfully, to copy Snapchat before finally kneecapping the app by cloning Stories.)
Facebook’s presentation relied on data from Onavo, the virtual private network (VPN) service which Facebook also acquired several months later. Facebook’s use of Onavo, which has been likened to “corporate spyware,” has itself been controversial.
The company was forced to remove Onavo from Apple’s App Store earlier this year after Apple changed its developer guidelines to prohibit apps from collecting data about which other services are installed on its users’ phones. Though Apple never said the new rules were aimed at Facebook, the policy change came after repeated criticism of the social network by Apple CEO Tim Cook. –Mashable
A top UK lawmaker said on Wednesday that Facebook maintained secretive “whitelisting agreements” with select companies that would give them preferential access to vast amounts of user data, after the parliamentary committee released documents which had been sealed by a California court, reports Bloomberg.
The documents – obtained in a sealed California lawsuit and leaked to the UK lawmaker during a London business trip, include internal emails involving CEO Mark Zuckerberg – and led committee chair Damian Collins to conclude that Facebook gave select companies preferential access to valuable user data for their apps, while shutting off access to data used by competing apps. Facebook also allegedly conducted global surveys of mobile app usage by customers – likely without their knowledge, and that “a change to Facebook’s Android app policy resulted in call and message data being recorded was deliberately made difficult for users to know about,” according to Bloomberg.
In one email, dated Feb. 4, 2015, a Facebook engineer said a feature of the Android Facebook app that would “continually upload” a user’s call and SMS history would be a “high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective.” A subsequent email suggests users wouldn’t need to be prompted to give permission for this feature to be activated. –Bloomberg