Facebook Weighed Selling Users' Data

Until 2015, Facebook allowed outside app developers to glean data not only about users, but also about their friends.

The social networking service changed its policy in April of that year, when it stopped allowing developers to access information about users' contacts.

But before implementing that change, Facebook considered whether to go in a different direction -- one that involved charging developers for access to information. Specifically, Facebook considered charging developers $250,000 a year for the ability to access data about its users.

That revelation was contained in a court document filed in a lawsuit by developer Six4Three, which quietly sued Facebook in 2015 for cutting off access to the social graph. (Six4Three previously offered the questionable “Pikini” app, which relied on access to photos to find pictures of people in bikinis.)

Six4Three's lawsuit drew little attention until last weekend, when officials in England -- which is still investigating the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook fiasco -- seized documents from Six4Three's founder. Shortly afterwards, it emerged that one of the publicly filed documents in the U.S. lawsuit inadvertently exposed confidential data.

That document, which was publicly filed in February of 2017, contained large swaths of confidential information that had been blacked out. But -- as has happened before in lawsuits against Facebook -- the black-outs weren't done correctly. The result is that the entire filing can be read by cutting and pasting it into a Word document or other text file.

The document refers to email conversations between Facebook employees, who discussed whether to charge companies for data. One conversation referenced a proposal to require developers to pay “at least $250k a year to maintain access to the data.”

A Facebook spokesperson says the court filing is “very misleading without additional context,” and that the company has never sold data. “Our APIs have always been free of charge and we have never required developers to pay for using them, either directly or by buying advertising,” the spokesperson says.

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