Facebook admits to oversight with Partners

As per an investigation Facebook let Microsoft’s Bing to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read private messages

by exchange4media Staff
Published - Dec 20, 2018 8:33 AM Updated: Dec 20, 2018 8:33 AM
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A New York Times investigation has found that Facebook gave some “technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules.” 

Facebook responded to the expose in a blog post noting that: None of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people’s permission, nor did they violate our 2012 settlement with the FTC. 

As per the investigation Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages. And it permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

These revelations add to the litany of privacy scandals that the social media giant has been dealing with over the last one year. Accepting oversight, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Director of Developer Platforms and Programs, said in the post “We recognise that we’ve needed tighter management over how partners and developers can access information using our APIs.”

He said that partners did have access to users’ private messages. “But people had to explicitly sign in to Facebook first to use a partner’s messaging feature. Take Spotify for example. After signing in to your Facebook account in Spotify’s desktop app, you could then send and receive messages without ever leaving the app. Our API provided partners with access to the person’s messages in order to power this type of feature,” he explained. 

Going into the history of these partnerships with tech companies Papamiltiadis explained that across the industry, companies like Facebook partnered with other companies to build integrations. Citing the Blackberry Hub app as an example, he said, “People using Blackberry devices could log into Facebook using this feature, allowing them to see the same Facebook News Feed they would see if they logged in from a desktop computer. The data we provided allowed the person to access their own account on Blackberry. Blackberry couldn’t use any of the information for its own purposes.”

Facebook had similar partnerships with companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Yahoo. These partners built many kinds of integrations, including mobile versions of Facebook and social feed hubs, which aggregated feeds from Facebook and other companies. “We’ve shut down nearly all of these partnerships over the past several months, except with Amazon and Apple, which people continue to find useful and which are covered by active contracts; Tobii, an integration that enables people with ALS to access Facebook; and browser notifications for people who use Alibaba, Mozilla and Opera,” the blogpost stated. 

One of the features in question - instant personalisation - was shut down in 2014 and it wound down partnerships with device and platform companies in April 2018, Papamiltiadis wrote. The Times’ investigation had found that partners have access to data as late as 2017, even after instant personalisation was shut down. Facebook accepted this flaw in the system and said that there is no evidence that data was used or misused after the program was shut down. 

“However, we shouldn’t have left the APIs in place after we shut down instant personalisation. We’ve taken a number of steps this year to limit developers’ access to people’s Facebook information, and as part of that ongoing effort, we’re in the midst of reviewing all our APIs and the partners who can access them,” Papamiltiadis further added. 

Over the last one year Facebook’s stock price has been falling and some shareholders have even called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to step down. Investors also filed a lawsuit against Facebook accusing the company of misleading shareholders over a data privacy scandal involving political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. 

But advertisers have continued to pump ad dollars into the platform which promises extensive reach. The platform recently introduced ad monetisation for content creators in India. India with around 240 million Facebook users is the largest market for this company. In India, Facebook is an integral part of all digital marketing initiatives.  
 

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