Facebook Defends Sharing User Data With ‘Partners’

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Did you consent? Social network shared people’s data with Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Spotify etc

Leading tech firms and consumer brands have struck deals with Facebook to harvest the personal data of millions of its users.

The controversial data sharing deals was revealed after an investigation by the New York Times, but Facebook insists it has done nothing wrong and defended its decision.

The social networking giant has had a torrid year so far, which included the hugely damaging Cambridge Analytical data sharing scandal, which forced CEO Mark Zuckerberg to make a number of appearances before US and European lawmakers.

Data deals

The New York Times investigation reveals that Facebook struck deals with different partners, including Amazon, Apple, Spotify, Microsoft and Netflix, to give them access to user data.

Those companies were able to read, write and delete Facebook users’ private messages, as well as to see all the participants in a message thread.

As well, it also allowed companies to see users’ email address and phone numbers. For example:

“Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages,” wrote the NY Times.

“The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier,” said the article.

The NY Times also questioned if Facebook has broken a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that barred the social network from sharing user data without explicit permission.

Facebook defence

But Facebook has come out fighting in a blog posting about the article, and said it never gave other firms access to personal data without people’s permission.

It also said there was no evidence that the data had been misused.

“Today, we’re facing questions about whether Facebook gave large tech companies access to people’s information and, if so, why we did this,” wrote Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, director of developer platforms and programs. “To be clear: none of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people’s permission, nor did they violate our 2012 settlement with the FTC.”

“We’ve been public about these features and partnerships over the years because we wanted people to actually use them – and many people did,” wrote Papamiltiadis. “They were discussed, reviewed, and scrutinized by a wide variety of journalists and privacy advocates. But most of these features are now gone.”

But he did admit these firms would have been able to read people’s Facebook messages, but “people had to explicitly sign in to Facebook first to use a partner’s messaging feature.”

But at least expert has pointed to the above as a reason as to which he decided to close his Facebook account.

Delete Facebook

“Despite Facebook’s outward attempts to regain user trust and assert its commitment to user privacy, this latest discovery reveals the company and Silicon Valley’s systematic failures to protect consumer/customer data,” explained Matt Moynahan, CEO of Forcepoint.

“As a former customer of Facebook I do understand the need of a company to make money to provide free services,” he wrote. “But the abuse of privileges suggests things have gone too far. This is why I deleted my Facebook account.”

“It is ironic that a social platform would be the most egregious abuser of social contracts,” wrote Moynahan. “Time and time again, big tech, which includes Facebook and all of its ‘service provider’ partners, operates under the assumption that misuse of data is acceptable.

“Big tech needs to understand that the spirit of the end user license agreement is as, if not more, important, than just adhering to the letter of the law of the agreement,” he wrote. “And in crossing this social contract boundary with users it can end up costing these companies 25 percent of their market capitalisation.”

Moynahan admitted that consumers often willingly (knowingly or unknowingly) trade the privacy and security of their data for the conveniences offered by these platforms, but he said that Facebook’s example was “blatant abuse of access and assumed trust.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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