In the past week, the New York Times has revealed that Facebook shared “vast amounts” of personal data about Facebook users and their friends with a number of device companies.
According to the NYT, Facebook had data-sharing deals with more than 60 companies, many of which date from over a decade ago. Facebook shared information that would allow device manufacturers to create a mobile version of Facebook on their devices. Companies including Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Microsoft and Blackberry are said to have had these deals in place with the social media giant.
These third parties were allowed to access information including whether a user was online, their relationship status, religion, political beliefs and even events that they had marked themselves as attending.
More shockingly, several of these deals allowed device manufacturers to override a user’s Facebook privacy settings, letting the company access information about the user’s Facebook friends even if the user had denied Facebook permission to share this data with third parties.
It’s not thought that these device manufacturers went beyond the terms of their agreements with Facebook, and in interviews Facebook claims that these data-sharing deals were consistent with their privacy policies, as well as with agreements made with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Facebook said that it sees the device manufacturers as extentions of Facebook itself, rather than third parties.
However, it seems that these deals were a contentious issue even within Facebook, and the company began winding down these agreements in April.
These revelations could put the company in even more hot water. According to the NYT:
The broad access Facebook provided to device makers raises questions about its compliance with a 2011 consent decree with the FTC
The decree barred Facebook from overriding users’ privacy settings without first getting explicit consent. That agreement stemmed from an investigation that found Facebook had allowed app developers and other third parties to collect personal details about users’ friends, even when those friends had asked that their information remain private.
After the Cambridge Analytica revelations, the FTC began an investigation into whether Facebook’s continued sharing of data after 2011 violated the decree, potentially exposing the company to fines.
It’s likely that this new information will be included in the FTC’s investigation, and could act as damning evidence that Facebook has failed to gain explicit user consent before sharing data.