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Facebook accused of striking 'secret deals over user data' (bbc.com)
456 points by arduinomancer 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 170 comments





One of the leaked emails threads related to Vine:

Justin Osofsky (Facebook vice president):

"Twitter launched Vine today which lets you shoot multiple short video segments to make one single, 6-second video... Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends API access today. We've prepared reactive PR, and I will let Jana know our decision."

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook chief executive):

"Yup, go for it."


Interestingly, I remember Google's employee training[1] was written to warn against stuff this, something to the effect of:

"Hey, don't leave a papertrail about 'crushing' or 'destroying' competitors. We do not seek to monopolize markets and run afoul of antitrust laws. Instead, talk about how your product can better satisfy users and meet a demand."

(Another common theme I remember was that you shouldn't route stuff through Switzerland to get around export controls.)

[1] I contracted there via a startup.


Google's guidance for this stuff was always in the form of "don't leave a trail", not "don't do it in the first place".

Sketchy stuff comes up on a list? "Let's take it offline", not "no, stop this now".

That kind of thing. It was systemic.


This verbiage is common at most large multinats, from my own experience and from what's been relayed to me by peers.

I never heard it at Microsoft, nor was there training about avoiding paper trails.

I was inducted within the last three years, and I remember specific recommendations by CELA to have a non-content-based email deletion policy and to never insinuate anticompetitive behavior in an email or on teams.

The implication was "don't do anticompetitive behavior, we don't need to", but the warnings were given.


Depends who you were discussing it with. In general, if it was a manager, executive, or lawyer hired post-IPO, it'd be "Let's take this offline." Pre-IPO engineer, SRE, or UX designer of any tenure and it'd be "We shouldn't be doing this."

What they probably don’t realize is the record of saying “lets take it off line” ie requesting change in communication media is suspicious in itself and much easier for humans or algorithms to find in discovery than whatever complicated scheme they were going to discuss that wouldn’t give good target keywords.

I don't know, it seems like it's probably better to take it offline than to have a whole argument about something that shouldn't be talked about in the first place. If you keep talking, they are just going to put more dubious speculation on the record.

Shutting this down is just good management.


A lot of laws are written so that you have to prove intent (for good reason) and often let’s take this offline doesn’t satisfy that requirement. There are plenty of reasons to discuss something in another forum without any intent to break any laws.

A growing company is mutually exclusive with a company that tells their employees to "not create things that will crush or destroy competitors in the first place."

Even so, I still saw my Google manager's emails in the Oracle trial: http://www.fosspatents.com/2016/05/heres-mountain-of-willful...

A quick search for the word Facebook on that website reveals an uncomfortably pro-Facebook and anti-Google stance, couched amidst lots and lots of other stuff so the pattern cannot be discerned unless someone actually does a search. If the author is truly neutral as he claims, Facebook must be a saint when it comes to patent applications, which would be completely out of character. Or the author may be sponsored by a Google competitor who just happens to be pro-Facebook. Hmm... I wonder who that company might be.

Not that it makes Google's actions any better. But nowadays I doubt every single self proclaimed independent entity.


Yeah, Wall Street has much more experience in this. Whenever there would be something illegal to discuss, there’d be a phone call between our personal cell phones (company lines were recorded).

I've known a few CEOs of publicly traded companies, and they seem to have a "trap phone" with a rolodex of all the people they're not supposed to be talking to. Such as CEOs of direct competitors who they totally don't call to coordinate market strategy.

Also the most common 5 words heard on police scanners these days. ("Call me on my cell.")

These people should be in a cell.


Yeah really cops should not be using personal cell phones on duty. Don't know why this is allowed. Everything should be sent thru police radio and recorded.

Police IT is beyond awful. All of the cool toys are grant funded, so they build lots of stuff and maintain nothing. Operational funding is nonexistent.

The camera a detective I know was issued was a Canon Elph from 2003. They all use personal smartphones because the institutional equipment is limited and junky.


A surprisingly large number of people in the libor scandal were doing it openly in Bloomberg chat.

While true companies don't want to leave this kind of trail of actions, whether its in written form or not, ephemeral or recorded, people will have these kinds of communication. It's not like they should just ignore the competition or act via implicit understanding and winks and nods (they are not covered by anti-collusion like airline pricing is)

It's not surprising that big corporations are doing this kind of stuff. Their existence now relies not on productivity and efficiency but merely on raising the barrier to entry for competitors.

Corporations have already maxed out their capacity in terms of production efficiency; it's just really hard for them to coordinate so many employees efficiently. If coordinating large numbers of people was easy (and didn't become exponentially harder relative to number of people), we'd probably all be wealthy communists.

Instead of focusing on how to do their own job better, corporations have shifted their focus towards how to make it harder for competitors to do theirs.


This seems extremely reasonable to me.

Vine was launched in January 2013. Back then FB and Twitter were significantly more competitive than they are now.

Twitter must have been terrifying to Facebook. Of course they would shut down their API access for Vine. It's a no brainer.

The point of building a platform is to create more value for your users, your partners, and your own business. Not to make it easier for your competition to catch up...


It's not unreasonable when you consider this in terms anticompetitiveness and related laws.

Imagine if Microsoft just came along one day and literally banned any office software, including LibreOffice etc. from running on it's OSs.

Imagine if Nissan bought up a bunch of gas chains in the US and refused to sell gas to ... to let's say ... GM cars.

Or the electric company, which had invested in some solar panel outlays, decided to ban all other 3rd party solar panels from the grid.

These things are always a little fuzzy, but they are real.

Also - the lack of user clear consent is another one ie telling users that apps 'cannot extract their data' but in reality, they are selling it to Netflix.

FB can legitimately explain a way a lot of issues lately, but this one is bad. I think it's far worse than the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which case they weren't really doing anything wrong, just late to maybe close off said APIs.


The difference is that the Windows and Office are (or were) stand alone products that used no MS resources after the sale.

A free online service running on hardware you don't control isn't obligated to provide free service for everyone indefinitely. Same as "No shirt, no shoes, no service". A proprietor can refuse dealings with toxic customers.


Key difference:

- "No shirt, no shoes, no service" is a rule that applies to all customers, same with blocking customers that develop toxic behavior.

- Specifically targeting and dropping service for someone who launched a different competing service, for that reason, is anti-competitive.


I don't think that is anti-competitive under the legal[1] interpretation, but I could be wrong. My understanding of the legal precedent here is that a company is allowed to disallow service for any reason whatsoever as long as there is no contract in place. The only time it becomes anticompetitive is if a product prevents users or customers from being able to access the competing product.

The example I'm thinking of is Microsoft with Internet Explorer, where users were unable to use a browser of their choice. Here a company is not being allowed to use an API, but users are not prevented from using the product if they'd like. They just won't get all the functionality of Facebook within that company's product.

Facebook's behavior seems more comparable to Apple disallowing use of privileged iOS APIs in competing mobile browsers rather than Microsoft not allowing users to install competing browsers. But I'm not an expert on monopolies, so I'm happy to be corrected here.

__________________________

1. NB - I'm not making a claim or observation about ethics or what ought to be, I'm asking about what is, legally.


From [1] "Price discrimination is made illegal under the Sherman Antitrust Act. 15 U.S.C. §2, the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. §13, and by the Robinson-Patman Act, 15 U.S.C. §§13-13b, 21a, when engaged in for the purpose of lessening competition, such as tying the lower prices to the purchase of other goods or services."

I'd gather that the same might apply to sale/no sale and not just prices, i.e. you can't not sell something to someone purely for competitive reasons, there has to be 'some reason'.

[1] https://definitions.uslegal.com/p/price-discrimination/

Full disclosure: I'm definitely not a lawyer.


That stuff was reinterpretated in the 70/80s. If it doesn’t raise cost to the public, it’s not a problem.

Not in the UK or EU - you don't need to have market dominance to be fined for anti-competitive behavior.

We're not talking about 'toxic customers' who don't obey universal rules.

So that's not a good example.

We're talking about a store arbitrarily discriminating between customers on terms of it's own choosing.

... which is what makes it harder.

As for your 'software sold after the fact' ... welcome to iOS / AppStore to see who 'controls' what :)


I think vine situation is a bit different then this examples.

First of all, let's see the facts.

- Sharing user's friendship data with all applications was wrong decision. There were a lot of bad actors. - So Facebook decided to stop this practice. But in the process some good actors are also burned, so they implemented some system to share some limited data considering:

- You have some critical mass of users - sign a special agreement to promise you will not use this data in a bad way - if having not access to this friendship data breaking your app's model - and probably your app is not competing with facebook's business model

so twitter came, agreed on this terms, got whitelisted. Then probably stepped over fb's toe with vine, and facebook revoked their access.

The thing is facebook didn't remove because it was competitive, they didn't allow competitive in the first place. This is not different from Apple not allowing another browser engines, or another app stores in their ecosystem.


Facebooks decision to whitelist was entirely 'inner circle' and strategic.

It was not an open, rules-based scenario.

For example, there's no reason that 'Vine' did anything to breach the 'good actor' scenario - FB banned them for competitive reasons.

'Bumble' got special access because FB is an investor. (Did OkCupid? Tinder?)

Moroever, it seems that users were not properly notified of the 'good actors use' of their data.


Actually in the document published, it is pretty clear. Reciprocity part is explaining clearly. (especially strategic competitors)

The key point is 'equitable value exchange'.

If I am building a social network, leaching user/data from facebook, it is different than creating an app inside facebook ecosystem. This is the main distinction I guess.


> 'Bumble' got special access because FB is an investor. (Did OkCupid? Tinder?)

I think you misread the article. Facebook wasn't an investor in Bumble. Badoo was an investor in Bumble along with owning other dating services which were whitelisted. Facebook was also not (that I can find online) an investor in Badoo.


tbh I don't know any special access bumble got, from outside tinder and bumble doesn't look much different on facebook usage.

I worked in a city department with an obscene full service Microsoft contract and running any Linux machines on the same network was a violation of the TOS and therefor not allowed or considered even when obviously appropriate.

In the US? More likely the IT leadership interpreted it incorrectly... they define Linux devices as in scope for your enrollment. That was the big problem when Novell tried to pitch desktop Linux... you’d pay twice.

Cali 14 years ago, county zoning office.

lol, is totally not the same, as far as I know FB never blocked Vine from having a page or anything like that.

Dropping a service, which is typically open to the public, to a competitor solely because they're a competitor is considered anti-competitive.

It's one of the reasons Amazon won't admit to dropping AppleTV and Chromecast from their entire store because the products compete with their Firestick. Instead Amazon says that users are confused when trying to buy their firestick, so they're blocking even the third party sellers from listing it. Note that Amazon allows thousands of competing goods to sell in their store that users can equally get confused about.

Facebook kind of screwed up here, since the EU/UK does not require a company to be market-dominant to be eligible for anti-competitive fines.


> The point of building a platform is to create more value for your users

Sure, from a competitive perspective, that makes perfect sense. However, FB is at this point a global surveillance operation aimed at inserting itself as an essential utility in everyone's life, with the only apparent limit on their intel collection being fear of bad PR.

If you don't have enough sense to stop playing chicken with gray-areas[1] when you're big enough that playing rough can hurt those outside of the game, then you deserve to be regulated, if not attacked by regulators and sued until it really, seriously hurts, maybe kills.

I mean, what do you call it when a tech company puts serious energy and effort into hiding that they're harvesting text messages and phone calls from Android users incautious enough to trust them? Facebook is the world's largest malware infestation to date.

[1] To be exceedingly generous to a firm as slimy and invasive as FB.


That's the sort of thing that got Microsoft deemed an abusive monopoly, isn't it? Handicapping APIs when used by competitors?

Cutting off API access is destroying value to preserve market power. Quite analogous to what Standard Oil did with their railways.

Great example. For posterity, You need to explain the standard oil example more. I don’t think many people know about the story of standard oil gaining a monopoly in oil through transportation.

We have specific laws (called the anti-trust laws) to prevent monopolies in an industry from leveraging their power in an anti-competitive way. Or at least we used to, it's questionable whether America is still a nation of laws.

This is what a monopoly looks like.

Careful, we don't want to start using the word Monopoly wrongly.

When real monopolies exist and are dangerous, we need to be able to tell them apart.


Maybe you can try to explain why, but Adamm Smith who defined the concept of Monopoly would disagree with you. The purpose of the government is to stop firms ever being able to create one.This means before a monopoly is created.

Facebook is unquestionably a monopoly. They have unquestionably engaged in illegal anti-competitive behavior. It isn't even subtle.

In what way?

* Monopolistic action

Facebook is still far from the textbook definition of monopoly, but this anti-competitive behavior is not good.


quacking like a monopoly

acting with the knowledge that they can stem the growth of a competitor and flipping the switch


I believe OP mens abusing market power to prevent competition.

Although if it is or not a monopoly and an abuse of market power is dubious, but it clearly is anti-competitive.

This is similar to Amazon shutting off Google Products from any retailers using its platform. It is anti-competitive, but the jury is out on whether it is abusing market power.

TL;DR: you can try to shut off your competitors from the market, as long as you're not abusing your market power to do so.

PS: The Hacker News definition of monopoly has nothing to do with the economics, policy and antitrust definition of monopoly.


How is it anticompetitive to stop sharing data you own with another business who has taken a more competitive stance against you? It’s not like Facebook is a public service that everyone is entitled to. And I say that as someone who deleted his own account long ago. I dislike Facebook for a lot of reasons but this isn’t one of them.

It is retaliation for another business competing with you. That is literally using your market power to try to reduce competition.

But taking anti-competitive actions by itself isn't necessarily an issue, but it is a problem if you're deemed to have significant market power in a defined market.

Essentially: if Facebook is deemed to have significant market power, this could be a problem, if it doesn't have, then it isn't a problem.

Anti-trust relies heavily on the precise definition of a market (which is a subject that Hacker News comments generally ignore when crying wolf, I mean, monopoly).


I don't think its anti-competitive considering they don't need to provide any third party APIs at all. Plus it's not like to create a social app you absolutely need FB login or FB data. I think if your company can't make it and you're blaming FB for not giving you enough data maybe your business model was a little too dependent on Facebook in the first place.

> I don't think its anti-competitive considering they don't need to provide any third party APIs at all.

Removing the access of a competitor in retaliation for them competing with you, when you give it to other players is anti-competitive by definition.


This seems like retaliation for Twitter blocking Instagram from using its API (after Facebook recently acquired Instagram in 2012).

(Source: https://www.theverge.com/2012/7/26/3189340/twitter-blocks-in...)


Facebook had blocked Twitter from accessing their API in 2010.

Did Twitter shut down everyone's access to that API, or just Facebook's?

They had blocked Twitter itself from searching for friends on Facebook in 2010:

https://www.adweek.com/digital/twitter-facebook-friends/


I'm thinking about this in light of the IRA troll activity on FB & twitter during the '16 elections. They were pretty comical at times yet they seemed to fool enough people. I think it would have been near impossible for people in Saint Petersburg to fool almost anyone with short videos instead. Shame that vine was crushed.

I get it. they are the 400# gorilla and when they act competitively like this, it looks bad. However, for most competitive organizations, this would be standard procedure. You see an upstart which is using what sets you apart from others (their social graph) to compete against you, you take actions. I don't see anything extraordinary about this exchange.

The data collection and selling --that's what people should be upset about and lobby against. This kind of thing is a sideshow and will only interest the most hard-core anti-FB people. To get regular folks on board with changing the culture around user data, talk about user data and privacy, concentrate on that.


Zuckerberg said Facebook was about connecting the world. This looks like its about walling off the world?

Ok? So? We have all pivoted, changed minds and made changes because of external inputs. Maybe he had bad motives (get everyone hooked and then dump the suckers) but it's still competitive measures. It's not even illegal like dumping scooters and bikes all over a city.

How does it benefit the public to allow this kind of competition? Corporate competition exist to serve the public, and when it doesn't, we may as well make rules to force it to. Competition isn't an intrinsic good.

Is Hackernews being brigaded with anti-Facebook content or is it finaly Facebooks time to die? This is the 5th anti-FB post I've seen today.

I would be interested if theirs any information on a big tech company rolling out a FB replacer or if Mark did something to really anger someone. From what I can tell most posts seems to be around Britain releasing information. Not trying to start a conspiracy just trying to understand why all the posts today.


Is Hackernews being brigaded with anti-Facebook content or is it finaly Facebooks time to die? This is the 5th anti-FB post I've seen today.

Facebook is in the middle of a media scapegoat frenzy: https://jakeseliger.com/2018/11/14/is-there-an-actual-facebo.... So we're going to keep seeing anti-Facebook articles for a while; it's more attractive to blame Facebook than it is to examine the media's role in the 2016 election or to look carefully at underlying forces, a la The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium by Gurri.


I feel like what we’re seeing is less of a focus based around the 2016 election and more just general societal scrutiny of what they are actually doing. These are powerful tools for bad actors in general - It’s not Facebook vs society, it’s social media/ad-driven personal information vacuuming vs society. It just so happens that Facebook is by far and away the most used.

Facebook also is an enemy of publishers because of the way it’s platform dominates how people use he internet. Journalists have no love for FB because they are taking clicks and ad money away from publishers.

A friend of mine just quit his job there. He says it's absolutely terrible to work there, and he thinks 2018 will be remember as the year Facebook began to die and that they would be screwed without Instagram. I don't know that I quite agree, but it felt confirmatory of all these articles.

https://www.google.com/search?q=fb+price&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&c...

If you look at the stock charts alone, your friend is probably correct. The date, specifically, seems to be Thursday July 26th.


Do you know what news caused that drop?


If you read each story I think it’s pretty clear that they’re valid and notable on their own merits.

Really this. All these stories stand on their own. Together they form a narrative. Facebook is terrible because they say they are doing one thing, but they are doing something else, but really they are doing even more than something else while releasing PR pieces and thinking the public will just absorb them and absolve Facebook of their wrong-doing.

There has been a solid anti-FB wave for the past year or so. The Cambridge Analytica situation didn't help. And especially with GDPR fresh in mind the media has been continuing to rail them for various privacy issues (as well as the usual social media addiction topics, political interference, etc, then add on any shady-looking business moves like this...)

It sounds more like Facebook has gotten away with a ton of crap and it’s reckoning day.

A better question might be how did they get away with... I don’t know any of it really, for so long?


Yeah, but honestly, among its core userbase, nobody cares. It's great for finding out about groups and events in one place, and instagram is the biggest social media platform in the world.

No I saw this on Reddit earlier but didn't see anything about it here. Thought I'd post it just to see some HN discussion because I find its usually higher quality than Reddit.

Don't have any opinion on it, just wanted to read other people's takes.


> Is Hackernews being brigaded with anti-Facebook content or is it finaly Facebooks time to die?

IMO, neither. The media in general does have a large amount of anti-FB fervor that is substanceless (this article isn't one though the exact same link was posted already [0]). However, regardless of frequency on HN, the crowd here is too niche to affect FB's sustainability.

0 - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18608658


> large amount of anti-FB fervor that is substanceless

[citation needed]

Cambridge Analytica? Soros? This clusterfuck? What was substanceless?


While I'm no FB fan I actually don't think these stories are anywhere near as important as the non-stop media brigading would suggest.

* Cambridge Analytica: A company accessed friends lists via an api and sold them to another company. Friends lists are pretty much public on every other service. Very low quality data. Happened years ago. Original company accessed the data legitimately via api.

* Soros: Billionaire investor in FB starts publicly bad mouthing FB. FB hires team to find out why. Non-story.

* This story (strategic use of data with various partners): Literally every company that sells data does this. Some shady user practices, yes, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Altogether these are pretty minor things but the media coverage would have you think FB is causing the world economy to collapse.

My theory is that this is happening for two reasons:

1. Old media business models continue to deteriorate. FB is the new gatekeeper so the old gatekeepers are attacking it.

2. Extreme left-wing political bias in major media companies is still looking for a scapegoat for the 2016 election results and trying to to stop platforms that can circumvent their narrative.

Again, FB has a lot wrong with it, but to not view this as a coordinated attack from a handful of centralized mainstream media players is to miss the real story here.


Brigading, brigading. I keep seeing that word tossed around whenever people are unhappy that something inconvenient for them starts getting more attention than they think it deserves.

Personally, I'm happy that the media is finally starting to pay attention. Facebook has been doing shady, unethical, user-hostile stuff for a long time - since way before 2016. This has been building for a while now and I think the attention is entirely deserved.

And I'm not even part of the Elite Secret Socialist George Soros-Funded Left-Wing Media Cabal.


All the anti-FB opinion articles on and off big-media domains. There are a large amount. You can just browse https://www.nytimes.com/search?query=facebook if you'd like. Many lack substance.

If you dig through that list to the articles that are actual journalism (as opposed to explicitly labeled opinion and commentary articles), the last 3 are:

- "Facebook Used People’s Data to Favor Certain Partners and Punish Rivals, Documents Show" [0]

- "A Hot Seat for Facebook, an Empty Chair for Zuckerberg and a Vow to Share Secret Files" [1]

- "On Thanksgiving Eve, Facebook Acknowledges Details of Times Investigation" [2]

All three strike me as substantive. Yes, the NYT opinion section is a bit fluffy, and yes, that strikes me as a problem in a world where folks are increasingly unable to distinguish between journalism and editorial, but at the end of the day commentary like that is what the "opinion" label is for.

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/05/technology/facebook-docum...

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/27/technology/facebook-briti...

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/business/on-thanksgiving-...


Sure, if you add filters and dig you get substance. The initial contention was about the large amount of substanceless anti-FB content in the media in general, not specific types of content. That you have to dig is the issue, not what you get once you have done so.

I think any issue of substance getting media attention will also generate a lot of fluff/opinion commentary on the few articles of substance. I don't think this wave of media attention on Facebook is different.

You made the claim, not me. You claimed that a large amount of articles are substanceless and you produced no proof.

There are likely some positive articles about Facebook posted to HN daily too, but they don’t make it to the front page. There is a great deal of anti-Facebook sentiment here. An anti-Facebook article is much more likely to reach the front page than a positive one in this community, and that’s why it seems like HN is overrun with negative FB articles. Positive articles exist - they just won’t get upvotes here.

Lol. Is hackernews such a bubble these days? I come here and see so many bizarre takes on Facebook's malfeasance it makes me wonder if HN is being brigaded with pro-Facebook trolls? Or is HN just full of people who have the same bizarre and twisted view of the world as Facebook's execs? Has nobody here ever taken training in business ethics? Facebook's "shenanigans" could be slapped in as examples of what not to do for those ethics classes, much of it is on its face blatantly illegal.

Not that they don't deserve it but articles critical of the major tech companies are a large portion of the content here so a few anti-Facebook stuff in a row isn't really at all surprising.

On HN, everyone uses firefox.

What if it is not "anti" FB - but more like an influx of posting from a more realist perspective on what FB IS.

This is an OPPORTUNITY for HN readers in general to take a critical look at what this particular incarnation in Internet future-history is.

We should be documenting every detail and aspect of what is happening in tech, SV, FB, Goog, appl, etc all around us - as - how will we reflect on everything come 5, 10, 20 years from now.

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# ASK HN: is anyone working on the forensic cyber-#archeologist path? Who?

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We can't just assume "media" is doing it... HOLY CRAP - what was his name who fell from grace - the Micheal-something/AOL/Gawker?/WTF-was-his-name - who was ousted as a jerk and now we can't even recall his name... frak.

AH... the internet helped me:

ARRINGTON: https://gawker.com/5732314/aols-new-problem-mike-arrington

yeah -- we need to keep tabs.

FB will not be around forever (maybe?) but their footprint shall -- so we need to learn how to divine the right path.


Facebook: We can do whatever we like.

UK: No, you can't.

This totally works for me. If FB doesn't negotiate in good faith, strong-arm is exactly what's called for.


Has anyone read Mark Zuckerberg’s emails / his style? He is a very frustrating email writer.

You know that person who types out an 8 sentence email, but really the first 6-7 sentences are about how they are “just thinking about everything out loud” and “this could totally be wrong but I think that”. It’s just that, email after email.


No, that’s what you have to do in his position. If Zuckerberg sends out a mail like “can you get me information on how flowers are sold in China,” a SVP will delegate to a VP, a product marketing manager will fly to China, they’ll prepare a 200 page slide deck because this is “for Mark.” It’s very hard as a CEO with absolute power to participate in a conversation without dominating it and this is his best effort to do so.

There was an amazing joke about this in Silicon Valley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i92Ws7qPTRg

I can 100% imagine that happening.

Excellent point and responses like this are why come to Hacker News.


this is totally true and how you can tell you are leading a team and not "in it all together" no matter how horizontal you want your organization to be

there are people that won't leave the office until you leave and will take every random idea you have as a canonical decision

thats how you know you are the boss, to them, whether you wanted it that way or not


Nonsense. If you cant ask about flowers without receiving a 200 page deck you have a huge communication issue. Read emails from other CEOs.

> a CEO with absolute power

Did you mean that to be such a concise description of the problem here?


No, because all Fortune 500 CEOs have the power that makes the organization respond to their slightest whim, whether they wanted that or not.

Typical of this place and our industry, not appreciating that a phrase like "absolute power" has loads upon loads of baggage.

Yes, and all Fortune 500 CEOs have it. They have more power in their organizations than the President of the United States has.

They don't all have it. They are supposed to be accountable to boards etc. Look at how Ballmer was made to leave in the current decade, to cite a tech example. Zuckerberg has broken and circumvented this by concentrating power.

Now, your original point that small indirect suggestions can be amplified greatly by the network of reports eager to execute on the boss's mandate... This is true and I have seen it in large and small scale. I am merely poking fun of "absolute power".


Every single day it seems like a new article comes out - maybe the problem is that Facebooks business model is destined to fail if people scrutinize what it’s actually doing.

It I can emit a judgment that is now more visible: a lot of the less glamorous things mentioned there come from the Growth team.

As an ex-employee, I can’t say that I’m surprised. It’s never really subtle, too.

Antonio G-M (the author of _Chaos Monkey_ where he details his experience as the PM who started Custom audiences) joked today on twitter that Advertising has some bogger bodies buried. I’m not sure: when he left Custom Audience and related programs were a bit of a Far West. Most issues were rapidly addressed, some more recently. “Why am I seeing this”, facebook.com/ads/preferences and the more recent ad transparency for political campaigns show more integrity than anyone else.

I believe that Facebook could be (statically) profitable without the Growth tactics exposed here. The company was based on the express idea that they will be replaced soon, in a race, which makes slow expansion unacceptable. It was true up until recently, but I don’t think that it still is.


Lots of us noticed that a long time ago, and that's why we don't use it.

> Every single day it seems like a new article comes out

That's because some news organizations have invested in bringing Facebook down. If you pay attention, you'll notice those same organizations have also tested the waters with Google and Amazon, and to a lesser extent, other SV companies and the SV community itself.

I barely ever use FB. I really don't care what happens to the webapp (although I do very much appreciate the open source tools they've built, such as react and pyTorch). But I am concerned that these media companies are attacking the tech community, and are basically opposed to any platform that circumvents their role as gatekeepers of information.


Uhhh, I feel like the constant stream of discoveries about Facebook's highly highly unethical behavior stands on it's own merit. Like, if you just made a list of the crap they've done, that's really enough for me to be very convincing. I don't really see why you think there's some media conspiracy (or why you seem okay with true anticompetitive behavior on FB's part but are highly concerned about companies having "opinions" on the behavior of a company in another industry entirely).

I think like this is a theory that has a bit of truth to it, but the stories themselves should not be brushed aside. Society hasn’t yet come to grips with the amount of surveillance these ad platforms are inserting into every aspect of their lives.

I don’t think it’s an attack motivated by a vendetta against the “tech community” so much as the media industry’s unique relationship to Facebook, which has become a (if not the) primary driver of their audience and ad revenues.

No, you overestimate the concern people regarding toward privacy.

Was skimming through the report[1] and they mention “coefficient ranking” (email starting on page 49). Did some Googling and couldn’t find anything. Anyone has a brief explanation of this?

[1] https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/cultu...


You have a coefficient with each of your friends on Facebook, that represents how close you are with them, based on how much you interact with them on Facebook. Coefficient ranking is probably sorting your friends list by coefficient to show you the ones you're closest with first.

You have a coefficient with every object in facebooks graph, actually. Pages, friends of friends, even apps. It’s based on interactions, sure, but you should probably think about it more as a probability of future interaction, which is why they use it for sorting.

Sounds flawed. What if I interact with someone a lot because they're a family member who shares dumb boomer memes and we argue? :)

That's actually exactly how the algorithm is supposed to work. Negative emotions are far more catchy. You see dumb boomer memes constantly, you constantly argue, but you're ENGAGED. Which means you're a juicy user for ad targeting.

Sounds flawed, yes. But what makes you think it can't include whether or not the person is a family member as part of the coefficient calculation? And, what makes you think that the way you interact with your family is indicative of the way others do or don't interact with one or more of theirs?

Do you still see ads? Yep.

Great! Thanks.

It’s actually one of the most publicly documented aspects of the company, but never under the word ‘coefficient’ because the copy-writers (the linguists deciding how Facebook talks about itself on the site and in its blog posts, a surprisingly influential group) really hate the word. They manage to rephrase every interaction into a phrase, typically “how close you are with them”.

One recent example of a TechCrunch guide on News Feed [1] where “Creator” is actually coefficient or a more recent official version [2]. There was a very early “How does Facebook work?” company blog post that explained a surprisingly large amount of things. It was the only official resource for a long time. The explanations were clear, if read the euphemism “how well you know them” as (a rather obvious for data-engineers) “we batch-compute a rating on a dyadic graph at regular intervals (yes, that means weekly)”. Without that idea that all those phrases correspond to the same constant, that blog post and its successor are rather unhelpful.

Coefficient-ranking is indeed omnipresent internally, to the point employees regularly use the word in front of civilians without realising you are not meant to, almost daily. Explaining the concept and or even saying it’s called “coefficient” is fine: those blog posts are considered clearly explaining those by the PR team. You are simply advised to phrase things in a more humane way, like the blog posts do, because that helps people understand (it doesn’t: admitting a single constant number is imperfect helps a lot people understand the issues they have with the News Feed).

It’s mainly used both in front-end for suggesting interactions and as a data-engineering filter: the list of every friendship is a trillion long.

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2016/09/06/ultimate-guide-to-the-news...

[2] https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/05/inside-feed-news-feed-r...


From email dated 4 February 2015

Michael LeBeau – ‘He guys, as you know all the growth team is planning on shipping a permissions update on Android at the end of this month. They are going to include the ‘read call log’ permission, which will trigger the Android permissions dialog on update, requiring users to accept the update. They will then provide an in-app opt in NUX for a feature that lets you continuously upload your SMS and call log history to Facebook to be used for improving things like PYMK, coefficient calculation, feed ranking etc. This is a pretty highrisk thing to do from a PR perspective but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it.’

Yul Kwon – ‘Based on their initial testing, it seems this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog at all.'


Criticism of Facebook fall into the following buckets:

- Unethical use of UI dark patterns to make users (mostly the young and the elderly) unwittingly over-share.

- Unethical design of the news feed algorithm to bias certain kinds of consumer behavior.

- Unethical stewardship of private data harvested from users (this article is an example)

- Abuse of market share toward anti-competitive ends.

- The absence of warrant canaries on individual accounts, and compliance with questionable law enforcement requests for private data.

And then the new upcoming one:

- Unethical modification of the news feed algorithm to promote political views deemed favorable, and demote political views deemed unfavorable.


This can be legally interpreted in many ways:

and I quote: "It is unlawful for a company to monopolize or attempt to monopolize trade, meaning a firm with market power cannot act to maintain or acquire a dominant position by excluding competitors or preventing new entry. It is important to note that it is not illegal for a company to have a monopoly, to charge “high prices,” or to try to achieve a monopoly position by aggressive methods."

"It is illegal for businesses to act together in ways that can limit competition, lead to higher prices, or hinder other businesses from entering the market."

- Federal Trade Commission on Anticompetitive Practices.

https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/anticompetitive-practices

And a relevant tidbit on FTC investigation into FB for user privacy: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-43546100


"Facebook used data provided by the Israeli analytics firm Onavo to determine which other mobile apps were being downloaded and used by the public. It then used this knowledge to decide which apps to acquire or otherwise treat as a threat"

What is wrong with this part?


They have a VPN called "Onavo Protect" that says it can "protect your personal info" and "secure your personal details" [0] but that actually sends all your usage data to Facebook. Obviously they'll have some must-agree-to-use agreement that says that's fine, but it's obviously not what people who download a VPN for those purposes actually expect.

[0] https://www.onavo.com/


yeah but in the documents, it is just market research data, if I want to acquire one application, and let's say use appannie[0] to check how popular it is, what is different essentially?

[0] https://www.appannie.com/


I asked the same question yesterday and it seems that FB acquired Onavo. They joined this data with the rest of their user data, and then used it to make anti-competitive decisions.

It'd be like if Apple bought Appannie, matched the behavior with their existing customer database, and then used the data to delist Spotify from their app store because it competes with iTunes.


That’s messed up sure, and I am not a lawyer, but I don’t think how they got the information to act in an anticompetitive way is relevant, in the US at least (as long as it was legal, which buying up smaller companies is). Am I missing something? Is it fraud because they continued to market the vpn service as being private while they used it to collect market research data for facebook?

I think that maybe it's because Onavo acquired the information with a specific agreement with it's users, which didn't cover the way Facebook used it after FB acquired the agency, but then again, I'm not sure.

SOP for these situations is to license the data from the agency, so you can say that you're using third-party data which is also available to your competition. Level playing field and all that. Acquiring the entire company is a risk because it closes it off to competition and isn't necessary to just use the data.


Hi. Let me take over your VPN provider and watch your traffic and let someone else use that data to figure out what you've been doing and get valuable competitive intelligence from data you thought you were obscuring from everyone.

yeah with this same logic, if I give some google/facebook/etc ads to promote my application, I am ethically in the same boat with facebook.

The difference is they are not using their dominance, like for example, putting something in facebook app to check which other competitors installed on user's phones and spy.


That stood out to me, too... isn't market research a fundamental part of running a business?

Actually nothing wrong at all. Organizations also become kind-of living entities and self-preservation becomes paramount.

Nature maintains balance because it is not invested in the future of any species in particular. Nature cannot be manipulated emotionally. No psychological tricks work.

Society is supposed to play the same role. However, society delegates this responsibility to an elected few. Neither the society nor the elected few are immune from manipulation at different levels.

Summary: The governing system has to be unemotional, like Nature. In such a system, anti-competitive (or any other type) behaviors may yield results in short-term, but over a period of time, such a system becomes a great leveler.

For example, even with all our progress and monopoly over earth's resources, we are just one great flood away from going back to stone age.


If anything, FB gave away too much to Developers early on, making it difficult to pivot to the Apple model of facilitating credit card payments and paying 70% to Developers.

Hence the recurring theme of "Data Reciprocity" in the U.K. acquired docs. FB needed something, if not revenue, to justify the Developer's ongoing use of platform.


So they took one business's confidential documents from another person travelling in their country who had them as part of discovery for another lawsuit (that a CA judge asked to remain hidden)? And then they publish them for everyone? And these are the "bombshells"? Seems like normal (albeit arguably immoral) big business and would have expected worse from an internal email cache of such size.

Obviously FB has nobody on their "side" but themselves, but I for damn sure am not on the UK government's side here. Comes off as look-what-we-can-do strong-arm tactics when you don't show up when they want you to. And the publishing appears to be just gloating. Shameful and I would hope others see it this way regardless of their feelings towards FB. Sadly, the less-principled masses care more about who it's targeted towards than the actions.

I wonder if the CA judge will formally censure the UK government or encourage others with sealed documents in hand to not travel to places like this. Cry "exceptional circumstances" all you want, but we declare non-guilt on harsher crimes for much less egregious discovery violations than this.


You may not like the process but it is completely legal for the MP to compel the third party to turn over this information and then use parliamentary privilege to publish it. If FB has sent Zuck to talk to parliament in the first place this would not have happened. Instead he told them to get lost, and what are you gonna do about it? Well, this is it.

Not sure what you mean about a formal censure. I'm not familiar with any legal mechanism for a state judge to formally object to foreign parliamentary procedure; how would that even work between a republic and a commonwealth?


> You may not like the process but it is completely legal

I don't. Just like I don't like some things FB does that are legal.

> Not sure what you mean about a formal censure

I just meant denouncing the action as part of a written statement during findings or other rulings on discovery here. I didn't mean to imply there is a legal mechanism that I am aware of. I would at least expect a judge requiring a seal of material in similar cases henceforth to say that it cannot be transferred to anyone on English soil (e.g. an assisting legal team or expert witness) for fear of similar occurrence. At the very least, if I was defense counsel I would ask the judge to make such a restriction while clutching this precedent of taking discovery documents then publishing them to the world.


I don't think anyone's alleging the UK did anything wrong.

Six4Three's CEO is possibly on iffy legal grounds taking a bunch of sealed docs overseas unnecessarily and then handing them over, though.


>Six4Three's CEO is possibly on iffy legal grounds taking a bunch of sealed docs overseas unnecessarily and then handing them over, though.

Yeah, this is weird. I've taken confidential documents overseas, but they were either on an encrypted device, or stored securely in our cloud and pulled down over a VPN after I arrived. Not printed out in my luggage. I'd expect to be fired if I did that and a government got access at customs.


Well technically they were on Dropbox.

The irony is just too much.

Are you really complaining about a breach of 'trust' when data in possession of one entity ended up in the hands of another without the subject's permission?

In a thread about Facebook?


I "laughed out loud" at the idea Facebook thinks having things revealed during discovery that are embarrassing is new or some uniquely targeted kind of bullying directed specifically at them.

I think FB is so use to pumping money into DC lobbying that encountering a functional government investigation shocked and awed them.


>> Sadly, the less-principled [...] care more about who it's targeted towards than the actions.

> about Facebook

:-(


Live by the sword...cry injustice of the 'less-principled' when everybody else gets swords.

But everyone is right when quoting one's self.


I see nothing wrong. They asked for this information and were refused it or given vague answers. So they use their legal system to obtain it.

re: Android app and them working out ways to circumvent permission request dialogs for reading SMS/call logs to build user coefficient levels (who knows what else)

’The Growth team is now exploring a path where we only request Read Call Log permission, and hold off on requesting any other permissions for now. ’Based on their initial testing, it seems this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog at all. ‘It would still be a breaking change, so users would have to click to upgrade, but no permissions dialog screen.’


Even with the damning information in these documents, can anyone explain what possible consequences could result from them?

My 2 cents.. either threats of regulation (anticompetitive behavior) or pressure for Zuck to step down.

It's hard for.me to imagine zuck lasting another year as CEO... but what the hell do I know?

Can you actually force Mark out as CEO given that he’s the majority voting share holder?

Replacing Mark is not going to change anything. The problem is not Mark, the problem is what the company's built upon and its business model.

Is anyone genuinely surprised by this? I grew up with the early days of Facebook and everyone around understood the company must be doing _something_ to provide some service to people for free. I've accepted the fact long time ago that we are the product that they have to sell to make money to give us something for free. Am I the only one feeling this way?

I don't think most people are surprised and I don't think most users care. This is just the media grasping at anything it can get its hands on to attack their rival.

Alibaba once said it's "Data Technology" instead of IT now.

Looks like FB became the scapegoat of the entire industry.


There seem to be so many labels we could throw:

- Intent analysis - Sentiment influence - Data sculpting - Information engineering - Data engineering - Stream management - Cognition coordination

blah blah blah.

Labels are now the things of the commentary artists, howver, how do we regulate and police things when they are many layers of abstraction.

For example, at what point do we have API exploitation police? Statutes against very specific cyber-crimes?

Encapsulation policy/regulation?

At what point does spoofing overlap with identity theft?

What I find really interesting - and completely neglected as a source of directional inspiration - is that Anime has been dealing with these tropes and issues for decades.

The writers of Anime series with such concepts in mind should be sought, encouraged, spoken-to to start thinking about such ripple effects of tech.

We will have a cyber 9/11 very soon.


Just a reminder:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don't know why.

Zuck: They "trust me"

Zuck: Dumb fucks.


I'd like a transcript of your conversations when you were 19.

And I'd like to keep them around to bring them up over and over again out of context.


I agree that this being reposted in any Facebook-related thread is old and tired.

But I wouldn't dismiss the episode itself as irrelevant to assessing how Zuckerberg thinks. If anything, it should be a well known bit of history and already long baked into people's opinions.

And therefore it will always be "in context" when updating your opinion on Zuckerberg's (specifically) and Facebook's (broadly) trustworthiness.


You don't think Zuckerberg has updated a single opinion in the 15 years since that exchange?

Think about how different the world was 15 years ago. Think about how different of a person you are today versus just 4 years ago.

And on top of that, I'll share my opinion on the specific incident in question: the people who volunteered their personal information into a random web form distributed by a random student they didn't know...is by all measures...stupid. A 19 year old me might have even used the words "dumb fuck". So there you go.

My goal is not to defend Zuckerberg here. My goal is to defend people's right to be 19 and stupid/inexperienced. I'm also defending people's right to grow over the years.


Being 19 isn't a free pass to do anything. At 19 you are old enough to vote, drive, serve in the army, etc — and old enough to understand that words have consequences and that calling people "dumb fucks" when they give you their SSN is pretty cruel.

I'm not much older than 19 now, maybe you can use this conversation for your purpose.


The idea is not to hold people to their actions for all time. Even people who have been in jail are considered reformed. It's like someone holding you to your words when you were 4 and said you wanted to be an astronaut (maybe).

> https://techcrunch.com/2018/12/05/seized-cache-of-facebook-d...

"The documents were obtained by a legal discovery process by a startup that’s suing the social network in a California court in a case related to Facebook changing data access permissions back in 2014/15.

The court had sealed the documents but the DCMS committee used rarely deployed parliamentary powers to obtain them from the Six4Three founder, during a business trip to London."

Um, what? This is bullshit. I'm much more concerned about the misuse of government power to seize documents in court cases outside of the country of jurisdiction than I am of Facebook.

Whether or not these acts of populism are genuine, governments that abuse their power are just as bad as companies that skirt the law.


Well I'd be worried if there's the power with no oversight to request anything from personal nudes to the Coca Cola recipe and Area 51 secrets and then have no repercussions if made public.

Ok can we stop using all Facebook technology and stop this nonsense?

Anyone knows the status of Facebook vs Steven Vachani case, https://youtu.be/-W1B89wXJU8

Facebook needs to be replaced.

TL;DR required. I didn't quite get it from the article. Is Facebook accused of doing something illegal under the laws at the time of the action?

If I were to sue them for anything, do I have any grounds?




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