It seems that even after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has not yet covered all its legal bases or sorted out any loose ends. Perhaps that’s for the best since it allows even more information about the social networking giant’s practices to surface. A new report has revealed that Facebook may have given partners such as Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Microsoft, and BlackBerry far too much access not just to Facebook users’ data but even those of their friends as well.
This massive sharing of information between certain companies may have started way back in 2008, before there was even a distinct Facebook app to speak of. According to The New York Times report, Facebook entered into a partnership with dozens of device makers to make its social experience available on those phones. In exchange, Facebook gave them almost unrestricted access to users’ data as well as their friends’.
Even before Cambridge Analytica, Facebook already came under fire for the way it shared information with third-parties, specifically your friends’ information, without their knowledge, much less their consent. In 2011, the FTC decreed that Facebook is prohibited from overriding users’ privacy settings without asking for their consent. That applies not just to your own but also to your friends who may have configured their accounts not to share information with third parties.
Facebook, however, used an exception to that decree as a loophole. It argued that those device partners are not third parties but are, in fact, “service providers” and are, therefore, entitled to the same data access as Facebook itself. In other words, they don’t need to ask for additional consent from users just as Facebook doesn’t need to. Privacy advocacy groups and government agencies don’t agree and are now investigating the report.
The NYT’s test of an older non-Android BlackBerry device yielded these numbers. A reporter who had about 550 friends was able to harvest identifiable information of over 295,000 Facebook users through the BlackBerry Hub app. It’s like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon gone horribly wrong. Some of the companies named in the report have responded and washed their hands clean of the matter. Apple and BlackBerry said that they only get enough information to be able to view users’ messages or post to their Facebook accounts without opening up the app. Microsoft says that all Facebook data it collects is stored locally on the phone and never on Microsoft’s servers. Samsung and Amazon have declined to comment on the matter.