• Facebook shared user DMs with Netflix ‘for nearly a decade’, a lawsuit claims
  • Facebook and Netflix had a ‘special relationship’ 
  • Netflix’s chairman Reed Hastings was also on the board of Facebook  

Facebook’s parent company Meta allegedly allowed Netflix to peer at its user DMs ‘for nearly a decade’ to help the streaming giant better tailor content for its own users, an explosive lawsuit has alleged. 

Court documents unsealed on March 23 that were filed last April as part of a major anti-trust lawsuit against Meta appear to have exposed the intricate relationship between two of Silicon Valley’s biggest players. 

The class-action lawsuit, filed by two US citizens, Maximilian Klein and Sarah Grabert, alleged Netflix and Facebook ‘enjoyed a special relationship’, with the social media platform giving the streaming site ‘bespoke access’ to user data. 

The two Silicon Valley players also agreed to ‘custom partnerships and integrations that helped supercharge Facebook’s ad targeting and ranking models’ from at least 2011, thanks to the personal relationship between Netflix’s co-founder Reed Hastings and Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. 

Lawyers alleged that ‘within a month’ of Hastings joining Facebook’s board of directors, the two companies signed an ‘Inbox API’ (Application Programming Interface) agreement that ‘allowed Netflix programmatic access to Facebook’s user’s private message inboxes.’

Reed Hastings (pictured) joined the board of directors of Facebook in 2011

Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) had a 'special relationship' with Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings

Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) had a ‘special relationship’ with Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings

Newly unsealed court documents that were filed as part of a major anti-trust lawsuit against Meta appear to have exposed the intricate relationship between two of Silicon Valley's biggest players

Newly unsealed court documents that were filed as part of a major anti-trust lawsuit against Meta appear to have exposed the intricate relationship between two of Silicon Valley’s biggest players

APIs are pieces of software that allow different applications to communicate and share information.  

In exchange, Netflix would provide a report to Facebook, which changed its name to Meta in October 2021, every fortnight that showed how its own users interacted with the platform. 

Meta, along with much of Silicon Valley, has been forced to pay millions of dollars in fines for the way it handles the private information of its users. 

In 2022, Ireland fined Meta €265 million ($284 million) after data about more than half a billion users leaked online. 

Full names, phone numbers, locations and birthdays of users who used the platform between 2018 and 2019 were leaked online by a ‘bad actor’ who Meta said exploited a security vulnerability. 

That same year, Meta agreed to pay $725million to settle a security breach case related to Cambridge Analytica, the British social media engineering company that was brought into the limelight after its role in the Brexit vote and the 2016 presidential election was exposed. 

The data firm, largely owned by billionaire Robert Mercer, improperly obtained Facebook data to build profiles on millions of voters, which was then used to sway elections across the world. 

Mercer invested at least $15million in Cambridge Analytica and his daughter Rebekah was a board member of the data firm. 

Facebook’s former chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, said in 2018 that as many as 87 million Facebook users had their data improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, 37 million more than the initial estimate of 50 million. 

Other Silicon Valley firms were also caught up in the scandal. Billionaire Peter Thiel’s company Palantir allegedly helped Cambridge Analytica harvest data. 

The New York Times reported that executives from both companies considered entering a formal partnership to work on political campaigns, though the deal later fell through. 

Despite this, a Palantir employee was found to have continued working with Cambridge Analytica to work out how to get social media data to build psychological profiles of voters, though Palantir said at the time that the employee’s work was done in a strictly personal capacity.  

Beyond the improper use of data, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix was caught suggesting that the company employed ‘honeypots’, women who would seduce politicians to glean information or entrap them with compromising material, and bribery to influence foreign elections. 

The two main plaintiffs in the class action case against Meta said that ‘since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in 2018 and exposed Facebook’s lack of privacy protections and low-quality data privacy practices’, neither of them trusted the platform and wanted to sue to ensure that other people had their privacy respected. 

MailOnline has contacted Meta and Netflix for comment.  

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