Facebook considered charging companies for access to user data several years ago, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing internal Facebook emails in an unredacted court document.
Facebook employees also discussed encouraging advertisers to spend more money on the service in exchange for increased access to user information, the emails in the document reportedly show. Monetizing its user data would mark a dramatic about-face of the social media giant’s longstanding policy of not selling that information.
During testimony before Congress in April about the company’s data handling practices in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “I can’t be clearer on this topic. We don’t sell data, that’s not how advertising works.”
The emails are reportedly included in a cache of internal Facebook documents seized recently by a representative of the UK Parliament. The seized documents were obtained during the discovery process in a lawsuit filed by defunct app maker Six4Three that claims Facebook created privacy loopholes that allowed Cambridge Analytica to obtain Facebook user data.
The documents are believed to include private internal communications among Facebook executives, including Zuckerberg, regarding Facebook’s business model. They also contain an email from a Facebook engineer alerting senior people in the company to potential Russian interference on the platform as early as 2014, a member of Parliament said Tuesday.
Damian Collins, who heads Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said during a hearing Tuesday that the UK government might release documents “within the next week.” The company declined to provide the full text of the emails.
Consumers and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are trying to understand how Facebook uses the data of its 2.27 billion monthly users. Facebook has been under intense scrutiny in the past year for its practices of sharing user data, particularly after the company revealed earlier this year that analytics firm Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained personal data of millions of users.
The Facebook emails referenced in the 18-page court document that was viewed by the Journal date back to the fall of 2012. At the time, Facebook had just emerged from a rocky public offering and was struggling to generate revenue from its mobile product while operating under a data-sharing policy established years earlier under Mr. Zuckerberg.
The policy allowed tens of thousands of outside app developers to access private information about Facebook users by plugging into the company’s developer platform.
But developers were gaining access to that invaluable trove of data without giving Facebook anything in return. Facebook representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.