A new report has surfaced revealing some troubling details regarding the data sharing practices of Facebook. The social media giant reportedly gave access to its user data to “more than 150 companies” including the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Spotify, and Netflix. The report indicated that these companies include technology giants, automakers as well as media organizations. This means that all these companies had access to “hundreds of millions” of Facebook users each month. The oldest of data sharing deals started in 2010, and went on till 2017. Some of the deals were still active this year even after the eventful year that the company had.
The problematic part about all these deals is the fact that neither Facebook nor the companies getting the data explicitly asked the users for the permission. According to a report by the New York Times, some of the examples about the data sharing include special privileges given to some companies. For example, Facebook gave access to contacts and calendar entries of its users to Apple and the partnership still exists. Apple has since gone on to refute that it had special access to any Facebook data, and the data would “never leave” the device of its users.
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Other examples include giving access to names and contact details of its users to Amazon, a partnership that is shutting down now. Moving to the deal with Microsoft, Facebook gave Bing, access to “names and other profile information” of the friends of Facebook users. The report added that Microsoft had deleted the data since, and Facebook claimed that it only gave access to the information that was already set as “public” by Facebook users. Though, one of the most disturbing examples here is the fact that Facebook gave access to private messages to the likes of Spotify, Netflix, and the Royal Bank of Canada.
Data sharing deals
The report classified the deals into three categories with the first being integrations where Facebook would make a custom app for smartphone makers such as BlackBerry. The second is known as partnerships that included its data sharing deal with Bing as part of a past program known as “instant personalization”. This program was launched back in 2010, and Facebook enrolled all its users in the program by default. This means there were no options or choice though it was killed back in 2014.
The third type of deals is known as “one-off” deals which include the examples of Netflix, Spotify and the Royal Bank of Canada where these companies were given the access to both read as well as write messages. This was used to enable functionality where Spotify was able to hook to the Facebook chat window of the users, and then send songs to their friends. What is surprising is the fact that Facebook “acknowledged” the report, and added that “it had more work to do to regain user trust”.
Update: Netflix has issued an official statement in response to the original report adding, “Over the years we have tried various ways to make Netflix more social. One example of this was a feature we launched in 2014 that enabled members to recommend TV shows and movies to their Facebook friends via Messenger or Netflix.” The company even stated that the feature was “never that popular so we shut the feature down in 2015.” It also clarified the claims of accessing private messages of Facebook users by adding, “At no time did we access people’s private messages on Facebook, or ask for the ability to do so.”