Facebook has formed data-sharing partnerships with 60 device makers, including Apple and Microsoft, giving them access to information of users and even their friends.
A new report from the New York Times has revealed the partnerships, shedding new light on the social media giant’s behaviour related to customer data in the wake of the scandal involving the British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
Even before Facebook apps were widely available on smartphones, Facebook had data-sharing partnerships with the device makers, the report said citing company officials, adding that most of the deals remain in effect. While the device partnerships allowed Facebook to expand its reach, it let the phone makers offer customers popular features of the social network, such as messaging, “like” buttons, and address books.
According to the report, the partnerships allowed outside companies to access personal user data like relationship status, religious and political affiliations, work history and birthdays, as well as the information of users’ Facebook friends, even if the friends had blocked Facebook from sharing their information with third parties.
Facebook officials told the New York Times in interviews that the data-sharing partnerships were different from app developers’ access to Facebook users, and that the device makers are considered “extensions” of the social network. But security experts and former Facebook engineers expressed concerns that the partnerships offered companies practically unconstrained access to hundreds of thousands of Facebook users without their knowledge.
“It’s like having door locks installed, only to find out that the locksmith also gave keys to all of his friends so they can come in and rifle through your stuff without having to ask you for permission,” said Ashkan Soltani, a former FTC chief technologist.
In a blog post, Facebook confirmed some parts of the Times’ report but disputed others.
“These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences,” Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships, wrote in the blog post.
“We are not aware of any abuse by these companies,” he added, noting that Facebook has been “winding down access” to the software.
The report comes as Facebook has come under scrutiny for its handling of private data after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica accessed millions of users’ private information.