A DEVASTATING REPORT from the New York Times suggests that Facebook has been playing fast and loose with its users' privacy, giving special access to more than 150 high-profile companies, including Microsoft, Apple and Amazon.
The Times claims it has got hold of hundreds of pages of documents tracking the social network's partnerships and data-sharing practices, corroborated by interviews with "about 50 former employees of Facebook."
The picture it paints is not an encouraging one for anybody hovering over the "delete account" button - especially as the report claims that the deals with Amazon and Apple are still live to this day.
Amazon's access allegedly lets the company access user's names and contact information via their friends on Facebook. Microsoft had a similar deal for Bing, where it could "see the names of virtually all Facebook users' friends without consent."
But it's Netflix and Spotify's arrangements that are the most shocking: the report claims that the companies had the "ability to read Facebook users' private messages." Netflix denied it ever accessed private conversations, but did launch a feature in 2014 allowing members to recommend shows to friends via Messenger. It was "never that popular, so we shut the feature down in 2015," the company said.
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."
Facebook denies this. Responding to the report, Steve Satterfield, Facebook's director of Privacy and Public Policy, argued that the FTC 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."
He added that Facebook's partners "don't get to ignore people's privacy settings," but concluded that the company has "got work to do to regain people's trust" which is putting it mildly.
In a typically bullish response on Facebook's own newsroom, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, the company's director of Developer Platforms and Programs was explicit: "To be clear: none of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people's permission, nor did they violate our 2012 settlement with the FTC."
He did, however, concede that partners shouldn't have had access to "instant personalisation" APIs after features were officially shut down. "We've taken a number of steps this year to limit developers' access to people's Facebook information, and as part of that ongoing effort, we're in the midst of reviewing all our APIs and the partners who can access them." µ
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