Facebook Slammed With Potential Data Privacy Violations For 'Private APIs' 06/05/2018

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress in early April.                  Xinhua News Agency  Getty

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress in early April. Xinhua News Agency Getty

At least 60 different firms - including Apple and Microsoft - have data-sharing partnerships with Facebook, which gave them access to user data without explicit consent, according to a New York Times investigation.

Now, two US senators have penned a letter to Mark Zuckerberg demanding more information about users' privacy and third-party companies' access to user data. But the Times says Facebook provided far-ranging access - and possibly broke rules in a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, in which Facebook agreed that its users' data wouldn't be shared with third parties without their consent. The Times reports that most of the partnerships are still in effect, though Facebook started shutting them down in April, during its soul searching on privacy and data practices in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.

Information of 294,258 friends of friends was also identified using the Hub app.

Facebook argues that it hasn't broken any rules.

"The more unauthorized sharing that comes out, the more the FTC is going to be inclined to impose a significant civil penalty on Facebook", Vladeck declared.

The New York Times is out with a report alleging that Facebook improperly let other companies have access to users' personal information-and even their friends' information.

"These partners signed agreements that prevented people's Facebook information from being used for any other goal than to recreate Facebook-like experiences".

The agreements required the third-party companies to use the information only for the intended goal of integrating features into users' devices, Facebook says.

"Our partnership and engineering teams approved the Facebook experiences these companies built", Archibong wrote. Some companies were even able to retrieve personal information from users' friends who believed they had barred any data sharing, the Times reported. "We are not aware of any abuse by these companies", added Archibong.

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Critics of the company say that the device-integrated APIs are a violation of that control, however, allowing device makers a direct line into user data.

"New revelations that Facebook provided access to users' personal information, including religion, political preferences, and relationship status, to dozens of mobile device manufacturers without users' explicit consent are deeply concerning", they said in a letter.

Apple, Samsung and Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

The Times story promises a lot, but upon closer examination, it doesn't amount to much. "So companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube had to work directly with operating system and device manufacturers to get their products into people's hands", describes Archibong.

Facebook's attempts to justify its mishandling of user data have become a broken record.

Lax policies around sharing data with third parties led to the leak of information to consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on successful Republican campaigns, including that of President Donald Trump.

Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, said in a statement that The Times's reporting "raises important questions about transparency and potential privacy risks for Facebook users".

Amy Gesenhues is Third Door Media's General Assignment Reporter, covering the latest news and updates for Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

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