Tech

Facebook gave Apple, Samsung access to data about users — and their friends

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress in early April.


Xinhua News Agency/Getty

Facebook had agreements with at least 60 different device makers — including companies like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and BlackBerry — to provide access to large amounts of user data, according to the New York Times

More significantly, the agreements provided access to data of the users’ Facebook friends, raising compliance issues with a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission.

Sunday’s report states that the data of users’ friends was often made available without explicit consent.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, Facebook’s effort to clean up its app problems may be trickier than expected.

Facebook has under heavy fire since the revelation in March that consultancy Cambridge Analytica had misused Facebook user data in the lead up to the 2016 US presidential election. Since then, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has testified in front of Congress and the European Parliament to answer questions about Facebook’s handling of user data.

In a test, a New York Times reporter logged into Facebook using a 2013 BlackBerry device, using an account with roughly 550 friends, monitoring the data requested and received. Through a BlackBerry app called The Hub, the device was able to acquire “identifying information” for up to 295,000 Facebook users. It’s worth noting that a BlackBerry representative told the New York Times that more recent BlackBerry devices, running Android, don’t use the same private channels.

Facebook responded to the New York Times article in a blog post later Sunday.

The post, written by Ime Archibong, vice president of product partnerships, said the data agreements were a matter of necessity:

In the early days of mobile, the demand for Facebook outpaced our ability to build versions of the product that worked on every phone or operating system. It’s hard to remember now but back then there were no app stores. So companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube had to work directly with operating system and device manufacturers to get their products into people’s hands. This took a lot of time — and Facebook was not able to get to everyone.

To bridge this gap, we built a set of device-integrated APIs that allowed companies to recreate Facebook-like experiences for their individual devices or operating systems. Over the last decade, around 60 companies have used them — including many household names such as Amazon, Apple, Blackberry, HTC, Microsoft and Samsung.

According to Facebook’s post, partners signed signed agreements preventing the data from being used for anything other than “Facebook-like experiences” on devices. Facebook said it was unaware of any misuse of the date shared using these agreements. 

First published, June 3 at 9:34 p.m. PT.
Update, 11:13 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Facebook. 

Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook’s data mining scandal.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech’s role in providing new kinds of accessibility.

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