Facebook has reportedly been sharing user data with phone makers for ages

Gerardo Harmon
June 5, 2018

The New York Times discovered that the BlackBerry phone "was also able to retrieve identifying information for almost 295,000 Facebook users" and that "Facebook empowers BlackBerry devices to access more than 50 types of information about users and their friends".

"Sure looks like Zuckerberg lied to Congress about whether users have "complete control" over who sees our data on Facebook", he tweeted.

The data-sharing partnerships, made a decade ago, were highlighted by The New York Times, which reports that in some cases, "device makers could retrieve personal information even from users' friends who believed they had barred any sharing".

New York Times reporters Gabriel J.X. Dance, Nicholas Confessore and Michael LaForgia write that "the partnerships, whose scope has not been previously reported, raise concerns about the company's privacy protections", as well as its compliance with a consent decree it struck with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011.

While Facebook generates revenue from ads targeted with detailed information about users, Apple makes most of its money selling hardware products. Blackberry said it did not "collect or mine" Facebook data itself. "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".

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According to The New York Times, Facebook did this even after it declared it would no longer share such "deep access" with external companies.

The post goes on to say that the partners signed agreements that prevented people's information from being used for any other objective than to recreated Facebook-like experiences, which had to be approved by Facebook's engineering teams. You'll still have the option to enable them if you want, but Apple says it expects blocking them to significantly reduce the amount of site-to-site tracking data networks can do on you.

Apple will also block some of its devices' unique characteristics such as fonts and software plugins to stop "clever and relentless" data companies from constructing a "fingerprint" for users to track their behaviour.

Kogan developed an app that required people to sign in using their Facebook accounts - and that then harvested data about those users and their friends, that was then used by Cambridge Analytica to develop psychological profiles of us voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election. They report that some devices could get information such as religion, political preferences, or relationship status.

Facebook began shutting down the use of the APIs in April as part of its response to the Cambridge Analytica incident.

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"I think the more unauthorised sharing that comes out, the more the FTC is going to be inclined to impose a significant civil penalty on Facebook", said David Vladeck, a former top official at the agency when it punished Facebook in 2011.

The partnerships between Facebook and device-maker companies like Apple, Samsung and others were allegedly formed in order to expand Facebook's reach and custom software during a time period when social media apps were not widely available on smartphone and tablets.

There's a lot of background on Facebook's handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and there are predictable comments from Facebook's most frequent critics. And our partnership and engineering teams approved the Facebook experiences these companies built.

Zuckerberg was adamant before Congress that Facebook is seriously committed to users' privacy.

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Mark Zuckerberg , Facebook's CEO, later met with conservative commentators and leaders to defuse an uproar over the allegations. It was available only in five countries and accounted for less than 1.5% of clicks to the websites of news publishers.

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