Facebook staff lamented ‘unethical’ practices but were rebuffed

Facebook Inc. employees repeatedly chafed at what they viewed as anti-competitive or unethical practices by the company, internal chats show.

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But their concerns, voiced in 2012 and 2013, were overruled by senior managers including Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, who argued that the survival of the social network was more important.

The messages come from a roughly 7,000-page trove of leaked documents that were part of a years-old lawsuit in the Bay Area’s San Mateo County. The interactions are likely to be scrutinized further as Facebook faces ongoing antitrust investigations.

In multiple discussions found in the documents, employees, including some top executives, argued against policies that would cut off competitors’ ability to advertise on the platform and access Facebook’s audience and user information, which it provided to noncompeting companies.

Zuckerberg, in a November 2012 email, justified the decision to not provide services to competitors. Facebook software that helped app developers increase sharing “may be good for the world but it’s not good for us unless people also share back to Facebook and that content increases the value of our network,” Zuckerberg wrote. In later messages, Zuckerberg also argued against giving competing companies access to other Facebook services.

Some employees bristled at the decisions. In December 2012, one staffer wrote: “That feels unethical somehow. … It just makes me feel like a bad person.”

In another interaction, Zuckerberg responded to a Facebook advertising executive who said the company should be “secure enough in the quality of our products” to allow competing social and messaging services to advertise on Facebook. “Those companies are trying to build social networks and replace us,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The revenue is immaterial to us compared to any risk.”

A Facebook spokesman said that the messages paint a misleading portrait of the company. “These old documents have been taken out of context by someone with an agenda against Facebook, and have been distributed publicly with a total disregard for U.S. law,” he said.

The documents, published in full by NBC News on Wednesday, show a variety of conversations about actions taken to limit some companies’ use of the platform’s data and services. The messages are surfacing as Facebook faces antitrust investigations from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and 47 state attorneys general.