Facebook gave tech giants too much access to data without consent, report [UPDATE]

JC Torres - Dec 19, 2018, 1:20am CST
Facebook gave tech giants too much access to data without consent, report [UPDATE]

Facebook admits it has a lot of work to do to regain users’, not to mention governments’, trust. If so, it’s doing a rather terrible job of it. Or rather, it has never done a good job and all its warts are just now coming to light. The latest in a never-ending stream of reports is a revelation that Facebook as given as much as 150 companies, including many of the biggest tech companies, nearly unrestricted access to users’ and their friends’ data. All without their knowledge, much less their permission.

Facebook is perhaps only second to Google in having amassed a wealth of information on the Internet-using population. As such, it has become not just the prime target of hackers and deceptive apps but also of companies eager to strike a deal just to get a piece of that pie. And from 2010 to even as late as this year, Facebook has been a bit too generous with that.

According to the New York Times’ investigation, Microsoft Bing was allowed to see users’ friends while Netflix and Spotify were able to read private messages. Amazon got users’ friends names and contacts and as late as this summer, Yahoo could see users’ friends’ posts. All without informing the user first.

UPDATE: A Netflix spokesperson reached out to us to clarify that they did not, in fact, access users’ private messages. A rarely-used recommendation feature that ran only from 2014 to 2015 required access to friends’ lists and only for those who chose to use the feature, not their private messages. Here is Netflix’s statement in full:

“Over the years we have tried various ways to make Netflix more social. One example of this was a feature we launched in 2014 that enabled members to recommend TV shows and movies to their Facebook friends via Messenger or Netflix. It was never that popular so we shut the feature down in 2015. At no time did we access people’s private messages on Facebook, or ask for the ability to do so.”

This report isn’t actually completely new and is a follow-up to one the NYT published last June on the same theme and strategy. In these cases, Facebook went around the 2011 FTC consent agreement by labeling these companies as “service providers”, thereby enjoying the same privileged access to users’ data without having to ask information. Despite some of those companies having little in common with Facebook.

Not everyone agrees, however, including some of Facebook’s shareholders. If this news blows up (and it probably should), it would fodder to the growing growing pyre that is Facebook’s reputation. Although it’s a long way from collapsing in on itself, it might take even longer for the social network giant to rebuild its empire. Especially when its former partners who benefited from its business now stay away from it like the plague.


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