Yet another revelation about Facebook’s ignorance regarding user privacy has been seen in the recent time. The social media giant, as reports suggest, gave in huge amounts of personal user data to major tech companies. According to the report, Facebook exempted tech giants such as Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify from their privacy restrictions which are usually placed for third-party services. This news came just after the company announced that a software bug had been identified which gave third-party applications deeper access to user photos which they should have ideally had. The application s could even see partially updated user photos which actually were never shared on Facebook.
The New York Times (NYT), which obtained internal Facebook documents and interviewed more than 50 people, reported that special arrangements were in place for years between Facebook and major tech companies. This arrangement allowed user data to be exposed to the tech giants. For example, services like Microsoft’s Bing was able to see the names of the friends of literally all Facebook users without any consent from the user. Netflix had the freedom to read users’ private messages, and Amazon had access to contact information of users with the help of their friends.
The NYT report added that Facebook had made these special arrangements with about 150 firms, these firms ranged from tech companies, media organizations, to entertainment sites. One of the first deal of this kind was struck in 2010 and the most recent one in 2017. These partnerships were considered to be extremely important by the company and decisions about forming such partnerships were vetted on levels as high as Mark Zuckerberg himself and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
Personal data is considered to be one of the biggest commodity in the modern era, and the demand is increasing owing to its massive user base (a whopping 2.2 billion active users). NYT said that Facebook realized the importance of the user data very early in its life and took advantage of the same and monetized it using special access deals like an engine for growth.
Facebook partnered with various firms, and the kind of data entailed included- Spotify, Netflix and Royal Bank of Canada being able to read, write, and delete users’ private messages, Yahoo being able to view real-time feeds of friends’ posts, The Times had access to users’ friend lists, Bing, Pandora, and Rotten Tomatoes gaining access to friends’ information, etc.
Facebook told the New York Times that it has not found any evidence of abuse from the partners but did acknowledge that some of the partners had access to the user data long after they discontinued the features that required such data.
Steve Satterfield, the Director of Privacy and Public Policy at Facebook during a statement to Axios said thus- “Facebook’s partners don’t get to ignore people’s privacy settings, and it is wrong to suggest that they do so. Over the years, we have partnered with other companies so that people can use Facebook on devices and platforms which are not supported by us. Unlike a game, streaming music service, or other third-party apps, which offer experiences that are independent of Facebook, these partnerships have been maintained only to offer specific Facebook features, and they don’t have the ability to use information for independent purposes. We know we have got work to do to get back people’s trust. Protecting people’s information requires stronger teams, better technology, and clearer policies, and that is where we have been focusing for most of 2018. Partnerships are one area of focus and, as we have said, we are winding down the integration partnerships that were built to help people access Facebook.”
Just after the company has tried to come out of the controversies which began with the Cambridge Analytica debacle, Facebook has since then, been accused of providing a platform to conspire theorists and helping enable genocide of Rohingyas in Myanmar. The company as well, revealed at least two data breaches, including the recent photo bug. With yet one more scandal seeing the light, Facebook has come under serious scrutiny from lawmakers in the US, Europe, and other countries.