Facebook gave tech companies such as Microsoft, Netflix and Spotify, access to user data including private messages in ways that were not previously disclosed by the social media giant.
Facebook gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read users’ private messages. They allowed Microsoft’s search engine Bing to see the names of Facebook users’ friends without permission, and they let Amazon find users’ names and contact information through their friends on the platform.
Facebook gave access to user data to about 150 companies in all, including banks, tech companies, retailers and media organization, despite Facebook’s statements that it had ended that type of data sharing.
The Facebook’s 2011 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, which states the company cannot share user data “without explicit permission.”
Facebook claimed that “This is just giving third parties permission to harvest data without you being informed of it or giving consent to it,” David Vladeck, who ran the FTC’s consumer protection bureau, told The Times. “I don’t understand how this unconsented-to data harvesting can at all be justified under the consent decree. But in fact, applications had access to almost all of a user’s personal information.
Facebook has been under scrutiny since the revelation in March that consultancyhad misused Facebook user data in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. Since then, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has and the to answer questions about Facebook’s handling of user data.
Facebook acknowledged in July it entered into data-sharing agreements with dozens of tech companies, it continued sharing information with 61 hardware and software makers even after it said it had discontinued the practice in May 2015. The data-sharing agreements were intended to integrate the “Facebook experience” with mobile devices, something a Facebook representative at the time called a “standard industry practice.”
The Times reported Tuesday that the records show Facebook had arrangements with more than 150 companies mostly in the tech industry but also in the automotive and media industries to provide access to the data of hundreds of millions of people each month.
Facebook denied allowing its partners to ignore people’s privacy settings and said “it’s wrong to suggest that they do. “Steve Satterfield, director of privacy and public policy at Facebook, said in a statement to The Post that the partnerships do not violate their users’ privacy.
“Facebook’s partners don’t get to ignore people’s privacy settings, and it’s wrong to suggest that they do,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve partnered with other companies so people can use Facebook on devices and platforms that we don’t support ourselves. Unlike a game, streaming music service, or other third-party app, which offer experiences that are independent of Facebook, these partners can only offer specific Facebook features and are unable to use information for independent purposes.”
Other companies mentioned in the Times’ report denied using their partnership with Facebook to violate users’ privacy.
Microsoft said it took steps to ensure that Facebook data wasn’t used to create profiles for advertising or personalization purposes.
“Throughout our engagement with Facebook, we respected all user preferences,” a Microsoft spokesman said in a statement.
Netflix said that while it tried to use Facebook to boost its usability among customers, it never read users’ private messages on the social media site.
“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,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. “It was never that popular so we shut the feature down in 2015. At no time did we access people’s private messages on Facebook, or ask for the ability to do so.”
It’s now clear that a data partnership with Facebook can create reputational risks for the companies making the deals. Every company named in the report will be held account for the Times’ findings, and they better have good and thorough answers when shareholders, lawmakers, and reporters start asking.