Facebook accused of letting phone firms spy on users

Facebook says it “disagrees” with the New York Times’ criticisms of its device-integrated APIs		
		
	Catherine Shu

       @	   
   	8 hours

Over the last decade, Facebook shared the private data of Facebook users with at least 60 device-making companies including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung, according to an investigation published by the New York Times.

The agreements that Facebook entered raise "concerns about the company's privacy protections and compliance with a 2011 consent decree" with the Federal Trade Commission, the report said.

The Cambridge Analytica controversy led lawmakers to demand that Zuckerberg testify before two Congressional committees in April, during which he claimed, "Every piece of content that you share on Facebook you own".

Such integrations were perhaps necessary at a time when smartphones didn't have adequate specifications to run Facebook apps.

The FTC is now investigating Facebook's privacy practices in light of the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal. To date, Facebook has ended 22 such partnerships with technology companies.

Some device makers, according to the Times, could get personal information from those friends even though they were under the impression that they had barred any sharing if their data. As such, it offered APIs to allow device-makers to "recreate Facebook-like experiences of their individual devices or operating systems".

To test how much access was granted to a device, the Times says that when it recently had a reporter log into his Facebook account on a Blackberry from 2013 (when the company still used its proprietary operating system), the device retrieved personal information about the reporter's 500 friends.

Facebook, however, hasn't fully explained why these deals were still in place as of this year, and it's unclear whether they would have been wound down were it not for the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The manufacturers who partnered with Facebook have access to members' "relationship status, religion, political leaning, upcoming events and other data".

The Facebook road sign at the company's main campus decorate for Gay Pride Week 2015. They said the new reports only heightened the need for additional scrutiny - in Congress and at the FTC - focused on Facebook's business practices.

Amazon and Samsung have yet to comment.

Whether Facebook actually violated the FTC consent decree remains to be seen.

Facebook has issued a response to the article with a post titled "Why we disagree with the New York Times". It wouldn't have worked any other way. A prominent American daily says the company has given phone makers vast access to personal information of its subscribers.

That happened, the Times Michael LaForgia said via Twitter, despite having deleted the Facebook app from the phone.

Facebook on a Nokia C3, also from 2010. Apple's App Store launched in 2008, as did Google's app store, then called Android Market. Before that, Apple dictated what was on iPhones.

Zuckerberg was adamant before Congress that Facebook is seriously committed to users' privacy.

"Partners could not integrate the user's Facebook features with their devices without the user's permission", he said.

In other words, the Hub was doing exactly what it was meant to do, and Facebook gave BlackBerry a private API so that it could function as designed.

But the report taps into continuing anxiety about the information users give up - and to whom - when they use Facebook.

However, it now seems Facebook did not cut off this access for everyone, so millions of people's data was-and indeed is-still being shared without their knowledge. Not really. Again, there's no evidence that any of this data has ever been exploited or abused.

But while Facebook focuses on the past, it doesn't explain why it didn't stop or significantly revise those data-sharing partnerships with hardware makers years ago.

Facebook pledged to end some data-sharing agreements after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

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