Internal Facebook emails may show Zuckerberg was aware of privacy issues

13 Jun 2019

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Image: dolphfynlow/Depositphotos

Sources within Facebook say they have found emails that may connect Mark Zuckerberg with dangerous privacy practices.

The Wall Street Journal has spoken to sources from within Facebook who suggest a major public relations crisis could come to light if recently discovered emails were to be publicly released.

These people within the company claim that the emails, which are dated to 2012, show that co-founder Mark Zuckerberg was aware of problematic privacy practices surrounding user data. This, they said, is one of the big factors in the company attempting to quickly reach a settlement in the ongoing investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The emails allegedly show that Zuckerberg and other senior executives did not consider compliance with FTC regulations a priority. At that time, the US agency had just made an agreement with Facebook that the social network would work much harder to protect its users’ privacy.

Since then, however, the Cambridge Analytica furore – in which millions of Facebook users’ data was harvested without consent by the consulting firm – and many other scandals have resulted in this FTC investigation.

The Wall Street Journal said it couldn’t be determined that any of the emails reveal any decisions by Zuckerberg and senior executives that encouraged violations of the 2012 FTC agreement. However, if such evidence were to be found in these emails, it could seriously jeopardise Facebook’s efforts to settle and pay up to $5bn in damages.

Facebook responds

However, an email exchange dated to April 2012 seen by the FTC reportedly shows Zuckerberg asking employees about an app that claimed it had stockpiled tens of millions of Facebook users. The developer was then able to display this user information on its own site, regardless of whether the users consented or not.

A person familiar with the exchange said Zuckerberg asked whether this was possible and if Facebook should act to stop developers from displaying user data. An employee then responded to say it was possible and quite common, but that trying to stop it would be complicated.

While the app was eventually suspended, the person said that at no point did anyone in the company address the wider problem or see how many other apps were stockpiling data.

In a series of statements, Facebook has denied there being any such evidence of Zuckerberg’s knowledge of these problematic privacy practices.

“We have fully cooperated with the FTC’s investigation to date and provided tens of thousands of documents, emails and files. We are continuing to work with them and hope to bring this matter to an appropriate resolution,” a spokesperson said.

It added: “At no point did Mark or any other Facebook employee knowingly violate the company’s obligations under the FTC consent order, nor do any emails exist that indicate they did.”

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Image: dolphfynlow/Depositphotos

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic