Facebook Lists Firms Granted Special Data Access

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's F8 developer conference, 2018. Credit: Facebook

A mammoth document provided to Congress is the latest fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal

Facebook has disclosed more details on which companies it provided with access to users’ data, as part of the continued fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

As part of a 700 page document provided to Congress at the end of last week, the social network said it had given 61 companies a temporary exemption after it blocked access to most third-party apps in 2015.

The firm also provided a list of 52 hardware and software companies to which it provided users’ data, a list that includes Chinese companies such as Huawei which are considered a national security threat by the US government.

Facebook faced criticism after it came to light that it had given those device makers access to data to allow them to “recreate Facebook-like experiences” in the days before the official Facebook app was widely used on smartphones. The company did so without explicitly obtaining users’ consent.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's Parse Developer Day, 2013. Credit: Facebook
Data access

The 52 companies included device makers such as Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry and Samsung, as well as telecoms and software companies.

The list also includes Chinese companies the US has called national security threats, such as Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo and TCL. Other firms include Alibaba, Qualcomm, Pantech, Dell, LG, O2, Orange, Virgin Mobile and Warner Bros.

Facebook said the data sharing agreements were intended to help device makers adapt the service to text-only phones, feature phones and early smartphones.

“In that environment, the demand for internet services like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube outpaced our industry’s ability to build versions of our services that worked on every phone and operating system,” the company wrote.

It has ended 38 of the 52 partnerships and was due to shut down the remaining deals by this month.

Apps suspended

Facebook initially allowed third-party apps wide access to user data, ending the practice after a 2015 review by Ireland’s data protection commissioner.

However, 60 companies were given continued access after other apps were banned, including Serotek, which makes software for visually impaired users, which was granted eight moths’ continued access.

The other companies on the list were given shorter extensions, including dating service Hinge, Russian internet company Mail.ru, game maker Playtika, Nike, Nissan, Spotify and UPS.

Since the Cambridge Analytica fracas, which involved the now-defunct UK consultancy gaining allegedly improper access to details on 87 million users, Facebook said it has suspended about 200 apps relating to five developers.

Many of those apps were “tests” that were never released to the public.

A further 14 apps relating to Canadian data analytics firm AggregateIQ have been suspended pending investigations, Facebook said.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in April and the new document provides answers to lawmakers’ questions.

It was delivered to the House Energy and Commerce Committee late on Friday, and the committee released the information to the public on Saturday.