Facebook internal emails appear to show that Zuckerberg was aware of problematic privacy practices

Mark Zuckerberg.

caption
Mark Zuckerberg.
source
Getty

  • Facebook emails shared with government regulators show CEO Mark Zuckerberg debating how to address certain privacy issues, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous sources.
  • The emails do not show Zuckerberg clearly advocating for the disregard of user privacy policies or any action that would violate the company’s 2012 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission regarding user privacy, according to the report.
  • But the emails, in which Zuckerberg discusses the appropriateness of certain practices affecting user privacy, could reinforce the perception that the company and its CEO did not adequately prioritize privacy, the report added.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Internal Facebook emails shared with government regulators show CEO Mark Zuckerberg questioning some of the company’s privacy practices, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that cited anonymous sources.

While the emails in question do not appear to show Zuckerberg advocating anything that would clearly violate the company’s protections of user privacy, the discussions see the CEO debating the propriety of certain actions in a way that could feed negative perceptions about the company’s attitude toward privacy, according to the report.

The emails are part of Facebook’s efforts to provide information to the Federal Trade Commission as the agency investigates whether Facebook has complied with a 2012 consent decree over the social network’s privacy practices.

Shares of Facebook dropped about 2% after the report was published.

“We have fully cooperated with the FTC’s investigation to date and provided tens of thousands of documents, emails and files,” Facebook told Business Insider in an emailed statement. “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 said in April it expected to pay $3 billion to $5 billion in fines as a result of the FTC investigation. The investigation began about a year ago after news that the Trump-linked political-research firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly gained access to personal information of tens of millions of Facebook users and used the data for targeted political ads during the 2016 presidential election.

Bad optics at a bad time for Facebook

Some Facebook officials are worried that the emails could make for bad optics and further damage Facebook’s bruised reputation if the emails were made public, The Journal reported.

The internal emails appear to show Zuckerberg discussing how to deal with certain issues affecting user privacy in light of the 2012 consent decree, the report said. It was not clear whether any of those discussions revealed practices that violated the agreement with the FTC, according to The Journal, which said it was briefed on the contents of some of the emails but had not itself reviewed them.

One email exchange that regulators are now looking at, according to The Journal, involves an April 2012 discussion between Zuckerberg and other Facebook insiders about a third-party app that appeared to sidestep Facebook users’ privacy settings by collecting the personal information of tens of millions of Facebook users and making it viewable to others.

Zuckerberg inquired about the technical feasibility of such an app and appeared aware that it might violate the consent decree, which had been announced by then but had not yet formally taken effect, according to The Journal.

Facebook ultimately suspended the app. But the sources told The Journal that the emails do not paint a picture of Facebook proactively trying to determine if the app in question was part of a bigger privacy problem that needed to be addressed.