Accused of a report issued by the New York Times Company Facebook signed agreements allow manufacturers of smart phones and tablet devices to access vast amounts of personal data for users and their friends as well.
The report said that Facebook has partnered with at least 60 brands of smart device makers including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung – over the past decade to help them build Facebook apps for their phones and tablets and integrate Facebook functionality In their operating systems. For example, users are allowed to share photos with friends on Facebook without visiting Facebook or the Web site directly. In order for these features to work, Facebook gave these companies access to user data through so-called Private APIs.
These previously unreported partnerships raise many concerns about privacy protection that could violate Facebook’s privacy deal with the FTC in 2011. Facebook allowed device manufacturers to access users ‘and friends’ data without their explicit consent even after announcing that they would not Such information is shared with third parties, and so far some device manufacturers can still retrieve personal information from friends of users who believe they have blocked sharing this information.
Most of these partnerships have been in effect so far, although Facebook began to cancel them in April. The company has been heavily scrutinized by lawmakers and regulatory bodies after news reports in March that the Cambridge-based consulting firm, Analystica, misused private information of up to 87 million Facebook users.
“You might think that Facebook or the manufacturer of the device is trustworthy, but the problem is that the more data is collected on the device – with access to it through applications on the device – it creates a high risk on the device,” said Serge Egelman, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. Privacy and security “.
Some hardware manufacturers have access to user data such as marital status, religion, political tendencies, upcoming events, and other data. The tests conducted by the newspaper showed that partners requested and received data in the same way as third-party applications.
The Times report includes one example of how private APIs can share data using a BlackBerry phone that was manufactured in 2013, where a journalist used his Facebook account to sign in to BlackBerry’s Hub program, which combines social networking feeds with messages and e-mail. BlackBerry then retrieved data on 556 friends on Facebook, including social status, religious and political tendencies, as well as identifying information belonging to nearly 300,000 of his friends.
The basic defense of Facebook here is that these partnerships were necessary and when users logged on to the applications or services of the device makers they had the option of agreeing or not agreeing to share their data. The newspaper notes that there are similarities between these agreements and the Cambridge scandal, which revealed how third-party application developers exploit Facebook’s privacy policies and extract huge amounts of data from the company’s platform.
In response to this report, Facebook published a publication entitled Why we disagree with The New York Times to deny that information about friends of users has been shared without their permission.
“These partnerships work very differently from the way application developers use our platform,” said Im Archibong, Facebook vice president of product partnerships.
“Unlike developers who provide games and services to Facebook users, device manufacturers can use Facebook data only to provide new versions of Facebook,” the officials said.
The Facebook view says hardware manufacturers are not outsiders, but the paper’s report found they could get data about friends of Facebook users, even those who refused Facebook’s permission to share information with third parties.
In interviews with the New York Times, many former Facebook software engineers and security experts said they were surprised by the ability to circumvent the restrictions on participation.
Yet the Cambridge scandal revealed how the digital system today depends on the relatively free exchange of personal information, and how easy it is for technology companies to spoil the concept of “consent” by making people agree to share data without understanding what they agree with. In the case of Facebook deals with hardware manufacturers, it is fair to ask whether users who have logged into the BlackBerry Hub program already know how their information will be shared and used.
These partnerships were briefly mentioned in the documents submitted to German legislators investigating the privacy practices of the social media giant and published by Facebook in mid-May. But Facebook provided legislators with only one partner, BlackBerry, with little information on how these agreements worked.
Elizabeth Winkelmeier Baker, a lawmaker who questioned Joel Kaplan, Facebook vice president for public policy at a closed German parliamentary hearing in April, said in an interview she believed Facebook’s data partnerships violated privacy rights.
“What we were trying to figure out was whether Facebook delivered user data to someone else without explicit consent from them, I never imagined that this could happen secretly through deals with hardware manufacturers. It seems that BlackBerry users have become data operators without their knowledge and without their desire. ”
Apple said it stopped giving iPhone phones that kind of access to Facebook users’ data from September. Companies such as Samsung and Amazon have refused to answer questions about whether they have any partnerships to share users’ data with Facebook.
“Microsoft entered into a partnership with Facebook in 2008 to allow Windows-based devices to do things like add contacts and friends and receive notifications,” he said, adding that the data was stored locally on machines and not synchronized with Microsoft servers.
“The company used Facebook data only to give its customers access to their networks and messages on Facebook,” said Blackberry spokesman Asher Liberman in a statement. The company did not collect or extract Facebook data for our customers, adding that BlackBerry was always working to protect customer data and not to monetize them.
Facebook began moving to end these partnerships in April after evaluating its privacy practices and data in the aftermath of the Cambridge scandal. Archibung said the company concluded that partnerships were no longer necessary to serve Facebook users. And they closed about 22 of them.
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned before Congress last April, he said the company gives users complete control over their data and what happens to them. “Every content you share on Facebook is yours and you have complete control over who sees this content and how it shares it,
But in general Facebook has enabled BlackBerry devices to access more than 50 kinds of information about users and their friends.
No doubt this new scandal will make Facebook face a big problem in the coming period, especially with the rules and laws of the European Union’s General Data Protection (GDPR), which came into effect on 25 May. If Facebook continues to share people’s data without their consent, Sensitive may fall into a big problem with regulators from the EU.