Mark Zuckerberg and his team were evidently worried enough about Vine, a video app from Twitter, that on the day it launched in January 2013, they moved to limit its access to Facebook user data, a treasure of internal Facebook emails exposed by the U.K. Parliament on Wednesday shows.
Facebook told CNN on Wednesday that the decision to limit Vine’s access to data, which would have permitted its users to invite their Facebook friends to join the app, was in a row with a company policy at the time. That policy limited apps’ access to Facebook data when the company regarded that the apps “replicated” Facebook’s “core functionality.” Simply put, apps that Facebook thought might compete with them.
Justin Osofsky, Facebook vice-president wrote to Zuckerberg “Twitter launched Vine today which lets you shoot multiple short video segments to make one single, 6-second video,” and others the day Vine launched, according to the emails released by the UK Parliament.
Osofsky added “Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends API access today. We’ve prepared reactive PR,”.
Zuckerberg responded “Yup, go for it,”.
Facebook said on Wednesday that Zuckerberg and his colleagues were only abiding by Facebook’s policy protecting against competitors. But the company changed the policy on Tuesday, one day before the emails were released.
A Facebook spokesperson said on Wednesday “As part of our ongoing review we have decided that we will remove this out of date policy so that our platform remains as open as possible. We think this is the right thing to do as platforms and technology develop and grow,”.
The spokesperson said, adding, “We built our developer platform years ago to pave the way for innovation in social apps and services. At that time we made the decision to restrict apps built on top of our platform that replicated our core functionality, “These kind of restrictions are common across the tech industry with different platforms having their own variant including YouTube, Twitter, Snap and Apple.”
Vine, which permitted users to shoot and posts six second replayed videos, shut down in 2017. Twitter did not instantly answer to a request for comment.
Evidently responding to Wednesday’s revelations, Vine co-founder, Rus Yusupov tweeted, “Competition sucks, right? No. It allows for products to improve, become available to more people, at lower costs. Strive to build new things that people want and influence other creators for the cycle to continue.”
The email conversation about Vine is part of a cache of internal Facebook documents the company fought to keep secret
The documents comprised of conversations among senior Facebook executives.
The cache springs from a lawsuit brought against Facebook by a small app company called Six4Three. In a blog post on Wednesday, Facebook said “The documents were selectively leaked to publish some, but not all, of the internal discussions at Facebook.”
Zuckerberg posted himself on Facebook also, writing, “I understand there is a lot of scrutiny on how we run our systems. That’s healthy given the vast number of people who use our services around the world, and it is right that we are constantly asked to explain what we do. But it’s also important that the coverage of what we do — including the explanation of these internal documents — doesn’t misrepresent our actions or motives. This was an important change to protect our community, and it achieved its goal.”
A California judge had put the documents under seal. But when Six4Three’s CEO, Ted Kramer, was in London last month, he was accompanied to Parliament and told to provide the documents or be held in contempt.
Six4Three, which had an app that permitted users to search for pictures of their friends in swimsuits, has blamed the social media giant of having little respect for user privacy and stated that Zuckerberg created a plan that forced some of Facebook’s rivals, or potential rivals, out of business. Facebook says the lawsuit is without quality.
The UK parliamentary committee, led by Damian Collins, asked for the documents as part of a bigger investigation into Facebook, false news, disinformation and data privacy that has been on goingf for more than a year. The committee has steadily asked Zuckerberg to give proof, but so far he’s avoided the committee, even when it brought together lawmakers from nine different countries for an unusual “International Grand Committee on Disinformation.”
Collins said on Twitter “I believe there is considerable public interest in releasing these documents. They raise important questions about how Facebook treats users data, their policies for working with app developers, and how they exercise their dominant position in the social media market, “We don’t feel we have had straight answers from Facebook on these important issues, which is why we are releasing the documents.”
A Facebook spokesperson in a statement after the release of the documents said “As we’ve said many times, the documents Six4Three gathered for their baseless case are only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context. We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends’ data with developers. 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.”