Facebook says preferential data access was with user permission


The New York Times said Amazon could find users' names and contact information via their friends; that Bing could "see the names of virtually all Facebook users' friends without consent"; that Netflix and Spotify could read users' private messages; and that Yahoo could "view streams of friends' posts" even though Facebook publicly said it had ended that practice. Microsoft's Bing could also view almost all users' friends, Amazon could glean contact information from them, and Yahoo had access to their posting streams.

In order for companies like Spotify to access personal messages, Facebook said users had to "explicitly sign in" to Facebook through the other companies' app. One example cited by the outlet was Microsoft's Bing search engine being able to see the names of all your Facebook friends without your consent.

The deals were all active in 2017, and some were still in effect this year, the Times reported.

Among these, a dozen of the top tech giants received access to users' private messages after deals that "were vetted at high levels, sometimes by Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg".

A Facebook spokesperson said the company had found "no evidence of abuse by its partners", but there's no evidence they were actually looking.

Whether aware or not, The Times reasons that the documents "raise questions about whether Facebook ran afoul of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] that barred the social network from sharing user data without explicit permission".

That said, it doesn't seem to have stopped people from joining Facebook, or led to huge numbers leaving.

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Facebook shares were down 1.3 percent in pre-market trading at 6:45 a.m.in New York Wednesday.

The social network said it shut down almost all of these partnerships over the past several months, except those with Apple and Amazon, which people continue to find useful and which are covered by active contracts.

These companies are not the only ones with broad access to user data.

The documents reviewed by the Times raise questions of whether Facebook's data-sharing agreements ran afoul of a consent decree issued by the Federal Trade Commission meant to monitor how Facebook tracks and shares data about its users.

Papamiltiadis said, however, that "we recognize that we've needed tighter management over how partners and developers can access information".

The problem for Facebook is that these stock quotes don't cut through the damage that reports like these do to public trust, because the main takeaway is that the firm says the bare minimum it can get away with and tries to wiggle out on the technicalities.

"Throughout our engagement with Facebook, we respected all user preferences", Microsoft said in a statement. A spokeswoman for Yandex, which was accused a year ago by Ukraine's security service of funneling its user data to the Kremlin, said the company was unaware of the access and did not know why Facebook had allowed it to continue.