Facebook gave tech firms access to vast amount of personal user data
Facebook has been under the scanner for a series of privacy scandals, including Cambridge Analytica that improperly used Facebook data to build tools aiding President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, diluting users’ trust. Facebook insisted that it had instituted stricter privacy protections long ago, with Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, assuring lawmakers in April that people “have complete control” over everything they share on Facebook.
But the documents, as well as interviews with about 50 former employees of Facebook and its corporate partners, reveal that Facebook allowed certain companies access to data despite those protections. They also raise questions about whether Facebook ran afoul of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that barred the social network site from sharing user data without explicit permission.
In all, the deals described in the documents benefited more than 150 companies — most of them tech businesses, including online retailers and entertainment sites, but also automakers and media organizations. Their applications sought the data of hundreds of millions of people in a month, records show. The deals, the oldest of which date to 2010, were all active in 2017. Some were still in effect this year.
The news comes days after Facebook disclosed a massive photo bug, weeks after 50 million people were affected by an access-token harvesting attack, and less than a month after it was revealed that Facebook considered selling access to its users’ data. All of those scandals are on top of the Cambridge Analytica debacle. In June 2018, Facebook dodged some lawmakers' questions in written testimony, two days after CEO Mark Zuckerberg's appearance before the US Senate.
The newspaper cited "hundreds of pages" of internal documents, which it did not publish. "Some of the largest partners, including Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo, said they had used the data appropriately, but declined to discuss the sharing deals in detail," the newspaper reported.
Pushing for explosive growth, Facebook got more users, lifting its advertising revenue. Partner companies acquired features to make their products more attractive. Facebook users connected with friends across different devices and websites. But Facebook also assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users—control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight.
Per the Times, these arrangements apparently let selected partners continue to access users’ contact details via friends—despite the fact that in 2014 Facebook said it was ending such access. Sony, Microsoft, and Amazon were specifically named as companies that had this ability.
"We know we've got work to do to regain people's trust," Steve Satterfield, Director of Privacy and Public Policy at Facebook, said in one of the statements.
"Protecting people's information requires stronger teams, better technology, and clearer policies, and that's where we've been focused for most of 2018. Partnerships are one area of focus and, as we've said, we're winding down the integration partnerships that were built to help people access Facebook."