For all the chaos and confusion surrounding Facebook over the past several months, one thing that the social media giant had to hang its hat on was that it has never sold user data. CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed as much during a congressional hearing in April, telling the committee in no uncertain terms: “We don’t sell data.”
Unsurprisingly, as you might have guessed, that’s not the whole story. According to The Wall Street Journal, internal emails show Facebook did in fact consider charging other companies for access to its massive trove of data several years ago. Facebook employees also discussed “pushing some advertisers to spend more in return for increased access to user information.” In other words, monetizing user data was definitely on the table.
These revelations regarding Facebook’s interest in selling user data arose from a lawsuit filed by a company called Six4Three. In the lawsuit, the app developer alleged that Facebook’s policies were anti-competitive, favoring some companies over others. Most documents from the suit were sealed, but the WSJ was able to view three pages of unredacted material from one of the documents containing pieces of the aforementioned internal emails.
One of the emails from the document, dating as far back as fall 2012, featured an unidentified Facebook employee suggesting restricting user data access “in one-go to all apps that don’t spend… at least $250k a year to maintain access to the data.” The full text of the email was reportedly not available to the WSJ.
“We were trying to figure out how to build a sustainable business,” a Facebook spokeswoman explained when asked about the contents of the emails. “We had a lot of internal conversations about how we could do this.”
The emails also point to specific deals with third parties, such as Amazon, the Royal Bank of Canada, and even the dating app Tinder, which Facebook apparently offered additional data access in exchange for the use of its “Moments” trademark. A Tinder spokeswoman claimed that this deal never ended up taking place.