Facebook gave more than 150 companies, including Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, and Yahoo, unprecedented access to users’ personal data, according to a New York Times report published Tuesday.
The Times obtained hundreds of pages of Facebook documents, generated in 2017, that show that the social network considered these companies business partners and effectively exempted them from its privacy rules.
Facebook allowed Microsoft’s search engine Bing to see the names of nearly all users’ friends without their consent, and allowed Spotify, Netflix, and the Royal Bank of Canada to read, write, and delete users’ private messages, and see participants on a thread.
It also allowed Amazon to get users’ names and contact information through their friends, let Apple access users’ Facebook contacts and calendars even if users had disabled data sharing, and let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts “as recently as this summer,” despite publicly claiming it had stopped sharing such information a year ago, the report said. Collectively, applications made by these technology companies sought the data of hundreds of millions of people a month.
On Tuesday night, a Facebook spokesperson explained to BuzzFeed News that the social media giant solidified different types of partnerships with major tech and media companies for specific reasons. Apple, Amazon, Yahoo, and Microsoft, for example, were known as “integration partners,” and Facebook helped them build versions of the app “for their own devices and operating systems,” the spokesperson said.
Facebook solidified its first partnerships around 2009–2010, when the company was still a fledgling social network. Many of them were still active in 2017, the spokesperson said. The Times reported that some of them were still in effect this year.
Around 2010, Facebook linked up with Spotify, the Bank of Canada, and Netflix. Once a user logged in and connected their Facebook profile with these accounts, these companies had access to that person’s private messages. The spokesperson confirmed that there are probably other companies that also had this capability, but stressed that these partners were removed in 2015 and, “right now there is no evidence of any misuse of data.”
Other companies, such as Bing and Pandora, were able to see users’ public information, like their friend lists and what types of songs and movies they liked.
The finger here is being justly pointed at Facebook – but what they are missing is the other companies also knew they were acting unethically by asking for and using this information. It also shows that privacy is something that none of these companies respect and the only way of safeguarding it is by having legal frameworks that respect it.