A report by a Commons committee has detailed Facebook’s use of an application to “spy” on users. The cross-party group said that Facebook used its Onavo virtual private network (VPN) app to gather information on competitors.
The MPs claim Facebook “intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws”. The report, which is more than 100 pages long, also details the influence of fake news on the site in elections.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee wrote that through the use of Onavo, which was billed as a way to give users an extra layer of security, Facebook could “collect app usage data from its customers to assess not only how many people had downloaded apps, but how often they used them”.
The report added: “This knowledge helped them to decide which companies were performing well and therefore gave them invaluable data on possible competitors. They could then acquire those companies, or shut down those they judged to be a threat.”
According to the report, as of November 2013, more than 5,000 apps on Facebook were “whitelisted”, meaning that they could gain special access to user data and the data of those user’s Facebook friends.
Whitelisted companies included ride-hailing app Lyft, Airbnb and Netflix.
An internal email discussed linking a yearly spend of $250,000 on advertising to maintain company access to user Facebook data.