Facebook – again. Just a few days after the latest bad press about a leak that shared images of 6.8 million users, the network is at it again. This time the issue is of their own making: Apparently it shared way more data with companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple than anyone would have thought. The revealing New York Times report also indicates amongst other things that Netflix and Spotify would have had the possibilities to read, write, and even manipulate private messages.
The goal: Fast unlimited growth
The articles reads like everyone’s worst nightmare: According to the New York Times, who sifted through hundreds of Facebook documents, the social network shared user data with a lot of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies – and that to an extent that’s unbelievable.
The idea behind it is pretty simple yet effective: Facebook provides partners with lots and lots of user information which of course helped them make their products more interesting and attractive. This is done for free – the network has always been kind of afraid to sell user data because of the potential backlash. Facebook in return gets more users – and their data.
What user data was shared with whom?
The report sheds some light on what information the different tech giants had access to. All in all there were three categories of data sharing going on: Integration partners, Instant Personalization, and special cooperations.
Integration partners were those companies that created special Facebook apps for their devices. The flow of data was already topic of another report.
Instant Personalization was a feature that started 2010 and allowed Partners to personalize their information with Facebook data. Instant Personalization was discontinued in 2014 due to a lot of discontent – nonetheless some companies apparently still had access to some functions of this feature until 2017. Bing, the Microsoft search engine for example, apparently was allowed to see the names of all the Facebook users’ friends – no matter if there was consent or not.
Special cooperations were deals that Facebook made with different other partners, for example:
- Netflix, Spotify, the Royal Bank of Canada: They all were allowed to read, write, and delete users’ private messages. While Netflix and Spotify apparently deny that they knew about their powers it is still an unsettling thought.
- Apple: Facebook allowed them to hide that they were even asking for data. On top of that their devices had access to contact numbers and calendars of everyone – even if they had changed their account settings to disable all sharing.
Facebook feels misunderstood
Facebook itself claims in a blog entry that all they tried was to give their users more comfortable features for them to use. Most data sharing also required the user’s OK; otherwise no third party would have gotten access to the user information.