Facebook Let Big Companies See Your Private Messages, Gave 150+ Firms Personal Info

Facebook shared far more personal user data with more than 150 companies than it ever revealed, The New York Times reports.

According to internal Facebook documents obtained by the Times, the social media giant allowed companies like Netflix and Spotify to access private Facebook messages and other personal data.

“Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages,” The Times reported. “The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.”

According to the report, Facebook gave more than 150 companies access to users’ personal data between 2010 and 2018. This included private messages, contact information, friend lists, and even friends’ posts.

“Facebook has never sold its user data,” The Times noted. “Instead, internal documents show, it did the next best thing: granting other companies access to parts of the social network in ways that advanced its own interests.”

Facebook admits they need to “regain people’s trust”:

"Over the years, we've partnered with other companies so people can use Facebook on devices and platforms that we don't support ourselves," Facebook's director of privacy and public policy, Steve Satterfield, said in a statement. "Unlike a game, streaming music service, or other third-party app, which offer experiences that are independent of Facebook, these partners can only offer specific Facebook features and are unable to use information for independent purposes."

Facebook knows it's "got work to do to regain people's trust," he added. "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."

He also told The Times that the company did not violate a 2011 Federal Trade Commission agreement that banned it from sharing data without permission, claiming that the agreement "did not require the social network to secure users' consent before sharing data because Facebook considered the partners extensions of itself — service providers that allowed users to interact with their Facebook friends."

Facebook partners deny wrongdoing:

Amazon told CNN in a statement that it complied with its own privacy policy and uses software interfaces "provided by Facebook in order to enable Facebook experiences for our products," such as giving "customers the option to sync Facebook contacts on an Amazon Tablet."

Netflix said it launched a feature in 2014 that "enabled members to recommend TV shows and movies to their Facebook friends via Messenger or Netflix," but that "at no time did we access people's private messages on Facebook, or ask for the ability to do so."

"Previously, when users shared music from Spotify, they could add on text that was visible to Spotify," Spotify said in a statement.  "This has since been discontinued. We have no evidence that Spotify ever accessed users' private Facebook messages."

Lawmakers demand action:

Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar called to pass a data privacy bill in response to the report.

Democratic Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz wrote that, “It has never been more clear. We need a federal privacy law. They are never going to volunteer to do the right thing. The FTC needs to be empowered to oversee big tech.”


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