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Facebook’s woes continue as a new bombshell report reveals that the social media giant gave tech companies it was partnered with far greater access to user data, including private messages, than was previously disclosed.
The New York Times reported Tuesday night that it had seen internal Facebook documents from 2017 that show the extent to which the company traded its users’ private data to commercial partners, including the likes of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify and Netflix.
The Times report outlines various relationships Facebook had with different tech companies. The company gave Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada access to read users’ private messages. It gave Apple access to users’ contacts and calendar functions, even if they had disabled data sharing.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, a Netflix spokesperson denied that the company accessed Facebook user data. “Over the years we have tried various ways to make Netflix more social. One example of this was a feature we launched in 2014 that enabled members to recommend TV shows and movies to their Facebook friends via Messenger or Netflix. It was never that popular so we shut the feature down in 2015. At no time did we access people’s private messages on Facebook, or ask for the ability to do so,” the spokesperson said.
Amazon’s partnership meant it could see the names and contact info of users. Microsoft, through its Bing search engine, had access to usernames and users’ friends’ names; Microsoft told the Times it has since deleted the data.
As well as viewing internal documents, the Times conducted interviews with 50 former Facebook employees as well as spoke with its corporate partners. The Times found that Facebook allowed certain companies access to data despite its privacy protections. In total, the Times saw documents that benefited more than 150 companies, most of which were tech related, but the list also included automakers and media companies.
Some of the agreements dated back to 2010, the Times found, and some were still active in 2017 and up to this year.
“Facebook’s partners don’t get to ignore people’s privacy settings, and it’s wrong to suggest that they do,” said Facebook’s director of privacy and public policy Steve Satterfield in an emailed statement to THR.
“Over the years, we’ve partnered with other companies so people can use Facebook on devices and platforms that we don’t support ourselves. 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,” Satterfield added.
The latest revelations pile yet more pressure on Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg over its mishandling of users’ private data and several incredibly damaging stories in recent months, including the Cambridge Analytical data scandal, the attempted PR pushback against George Soros, proliferating hate speech, promoting political violence in places like Myanmar and the role the company’s platform played in interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
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