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By Deepa Seetharaman, Stu Woo and Kirsten Grind
Lawmakers in the U.K. released about 250 pages of internal Facebook Inc. emails that they said show how executives, including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, gave some third-party developers preferential access to user data and contemplated charging developers for data access.
The documents were released Wednesday as British lawmakers examine Facebook's use of data.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg said: "Like any organization, we had a lot of internal discussion and people raised different ideas. Ultimately, we decided on a model where we continued to provide the developer platform for free and developers could choose to buy ads if they wanted. This model has worked well."
He said many of the changes discussed were rooted in the company's efforts in 2014 and 2015 to rid the platform of abusive and "sketchy" apps, while also building a business model that was profitable and sustainable.
The social media giant has been under intense scrutiny this year for its oversight of user data. The company disclosed earlier this year that one developer had shared Facebook user records with Cambridge Analytica, a political analytics firm employed by the Trump campaign in 2016.
Lawmakers and other critics on both sides of the Atlantic have said Facebook executives, including Mr. Zuckerberg, were naive about the risks associated with sharing access to user records.
The internal documents provided to U.K. lawmakers initially emerged as part of a lawsuit against Facebook filed by Six4Three LLC, the developer of a now-defunct app. Six4Three sued Facebook in 2015, alleging that its data policies were anticompetitive and favored certain companies over others. The majority of the documents filed in the case have been placed under seal at Facebook's urging and on orders from a California judge. Facebook called the lawsuit by Six4Three "baseless."
Citing an unredacted court document, The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Facebook several years ago considered charging companies for continued access to user data, a step that would have marked a dramatic shift away from the social-media giant's policy of not selling that information. In its statement Wednesday, Facebook said "like any business, we had many of internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform. But the facts are clear: we've never sold people's data."
The documents released in Britain Wednesday included several messages from Mr. Zuckerberg in which he describes grappling with how Facebook could leverage its platform. In October 2012, Mr. Zuckerberg mused that Facebook could charge developers directly for the data.
"I've been thinking about platform business model a lot this weekend...if we make it so devs can generate revenue for us in different ways, then it makes it more acceptable for us to charge them quite a bit more for using platform," Mr. Zuckerberg wrote, according to excerpts of the email released Wednesday.
Mr. Zuckerberg, in a separate email that month, expresses doubt that outside developers, after gaining access to Facebook user data, would share that information with other outsiders.
In the email, to then-Facebook executive Sam Lessin, Mr. Zuckerberg says he is "generally skeptical that there is as much data leak strategic risk as you think," according to an excerpt of that exchange, published along with a summary of findings written by Damian Collins, chairman of the House of Commons Digital, Media, Culture and Sport Committee.
"I think we leak info to developers, but I just can't think if any instances where that data has leaked from developer to developer and caused a real issue for us," Mr. Zuckerberg wrote, according to the excerpt.
A Facebook spokeswoman couldn't immediately provide details about what Mr. Zuckerberg meant when he described the risks of data leakage in the exchange.
Facebook said in a statement that the documents released Wednesday "are only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context."
Facebook executives, in the emails, also discussed an arrangement in which outside companies like Netflix Inc., Airbnb Inc. and Lyft Inc. were allowed to gather information about Facebook members who used their services beyond what was available to the vast majority of other developers, according to the emails.
The emails also detailed efforts to target competitors. Executives at the company decided to hamper a video service from rival Twitter Inc., according to a record of an online chat among Facebook executives in January 2013.
The record shows Facebook executive Justin Osofsky describing Vine, a feature from Twitter that lets people make six-second videos. Mr. Osofsky said Facebook currently allowed Vine users to find their friends via Facebook. "Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends API access today," Mr. Osofsky wrote, referring to a way to easily connect to Facebook. "We've prepared reactive PR," appearing to refer to public relations.
Mr. Zuckerberg responded: "Yup, go for it," according to a record of the chat.
Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com, Stu Woo at Stu.Woo@wsj.com and Kirsten Grind at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 05, 2018 14:24 ET (19:24 GMT)
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