Report: Facebook gave other companies access to user data; FB disagrees

Facebook shared user data with Chinese companies, one deemed a security threat

The New York Times claims Facebook shared user data without user consent with major device-makers including Apple and Samsung. Facebook disagrees, saying shared data always required user permission.

Facebook had agreements with more than 60 device manufacturers, according to the Times. Before Facebook mobile apps were available, the company partnered with Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, HTC, Microsoft, and Samsung, and others. In all, the report says Facebook partnered with more than 60 phone and device-makers.

Following the original article, The New York Times also reported that Facebook shared data with Chinese electronics companies including Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo, TCL, and possibly more. Huawei was declared a “national security threat” by the U.S. intelligence community in 2012, although no evidence was provided. Facebook reportedly told The New York Times it will “wind down the Huawei deal by the end of the week.”

The agreements allowed the other companies to use Facebook APIs (application programming interfaces). Facebook built a set of APIs with which phone companies, for example, could access the social network with features including messages, contact lists, and “like” buttons.

The Times report states that Facebook’s agreements with the device companies are problematic.

But the partnerships, whose scope has not previously been reported, raise concerns about the company’s privacy protections and compliance with a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission.

According to the report, after previously stating it would discontinue sharing user information without users’ “explicit consent,” Facebook continued to do so after the decree. The report states Facebook only started discontinuing the partnerships in April 2018.

Also, The New York Times states, device companies were able to access information about Facebook users’ friends, including friends who had opted out of any sharing.

Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships, wrote a response to the Times’ article in Facebook’s newsroom blog.

“While we agreed with many of their past concerns about the controls over Facebook information shared with third-party app developers,” Archibong said, “we disagree with the issues they’ve raised about these APIs.”

Archibong acknowledged the API set that it shared with other companies to allow them to “re-create Facebook-like experiences for their devices or operating systems.” The purpose was to allow Facebook’s growing user community to stay in touch with family and friends regardless of the device or operating system they were currently using.

Facebook maintained strict control on other companies’ use of Facebook user’s information for anything other than simulating the Facebook experience on their respective devices, Archibong wrote.

Facebook disagrees with the Times’ statement that third parties could access user data without permission.

“Contrary to claims by The New York Times, friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends,” Archibong wrote. “We are not aware of any abuse by these companies.”

Updated on June 6: Added information about data-sharing with Chinese electronics firms. 

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