Facebook plays down report it shares data with big tech firms

New York Times reports Facebook has struck deals with device manufacturers on access

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. The company said it had begun dismantling pacts with device-makers dating back as much as a decade. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. The company said it had begun dismantling pacts with device-makers dating back as much as a decade. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

 

Facebook is disputing a New York Times report about how it shares data with device makers from Apple and Amazon to Samsung.

The paper reported that as Facebook sought to become the world’s dominant social media service, it struck agreements allowing phone and other device-makers access to vast amounts of its users’ personal information.

Facebook reached data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device-makers – including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung – during the last decade, starting before Facebook apps were widely available on smartphones, company officials said.

The deals, most of which remain in effect, allowed Facebook to expand its reach and let device-makers offer customers popular features of the social network, such as messaging, “like” buttons and address books.

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 US federal trade commission.

Facebook allowed the device companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders.

Personal information

Some device-makers could retrieve personal information even from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing, the New York Times found.

Facebook conceded on Monday that device makers are privy to Facebook users’ information but the social network said it was nothing like the access that led to the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

The US company contends those pacts with device-makers were intended to help those companies create their own versions of Facebook apps, and the data mostly remained on phones that accessed it. That kind of arrangement was necessary before phone operating systems relied on app stores, it added.

Facebook and other internet companies are grappling with a global backlash over the extent to which they hoover up and handle user data. The New York Times said the vast amounts of information shared with Apple and other phone-makers included data on users’ friends that had supposedly barred access.

Facebook said it had begun dismantling pacts with device-makers dating back as much as a decade.

No app stores

“There were no app stores at the time and this was the only way to make our product work on their devices. We tightly controlled these APIs from the get-go,” Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice-president of product partnerships, said in an interview.

“These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences.”

Mr Archibong said Facebook approved each of the experiences that were built, and that they worked differently to its public, platform APIs. The company has since terminated 22 partnerships with device-makers, he added.

Facebook doesn’t view device-makers as outsiders – allowing them deeper access, the New York Times reported. It said it discovered some device partners could retrieve users’ relationship status, religion, political leanings and upcoming events, among other things.

“We’re not aware of any people’s information being misused by these companies,” Mr Archibong said.

– Bloomberg