Facebook responds to claims that it shared users' private messages

Dwayne Harmon
December 20, 2018

Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook's head of Developer Programs, said to a hypothetical anxious user: "Our integration partners had to get authorization from people".

The whole debacle is comparable to the technical confusion that enabled Cambridge Analytica to collect data about Facebook user's friends without consent.

For anyone who ever sent so-called private messages over Facebook Messenger, this week's second bombshell report about the tech behemoth's privacy infractions might make you second-guess whether your Facebook messages were ever really private to begin with.

It's not the first time this year that Facebook has been indicted in a security scandal - in fact, it's been a bad year for the social media company, with the Cambridge Analytica scandaland multiple security breaches bringing it into disrepute.

'Facebook's partners don't get to ignore people's privacy settings, and it's wrong to suggest that they do, ' said Steve Satterfield, director of privacy and public policy at Facebook.

While Microsoft and Yahoo got to see friends lists, others like Spotify and Netflix actually got to see inside users' messages.

The partnerships allowed Facebook to grow, and other companies - from tech, to retail, to entertainment - could access certain data. Amazon told CNN that its partnership is purely to ensure a smooth Facebook experience on its products, such as the Fire Tablet, and it "uses the information in accordance with its own privacy policy". "They may not be letting people take it away by the bucket load, but they do reward companies with access to data that others are denied, if they place higher value on the business they do together".

That Facebook would have deep integrations with third-party partners is not necessarily surprising, as the company's former privacy chief Alex Stamos pointed out.

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The NYT report also said Facebook gave companies like Netflix NFLX.O and Spotify SPOT.N the ability to read users' private messages and permitted Amazon AMZN.O to obtain users' names and contact information through their friends. The report also found that some of the access deals began in 2010, all of them were still active in 2017, and some were ongoing this year too.

Late Tuesday night, the always-crafty Netflix Twitter account replied to tweet with the New York Times article.

'Still, we recognise that we've needed tighter management over how partners and developers can access information using our APIs (application programming interface).

Netflix never asked for, or accessed, anyone's private messages.

The Times said the documents and interviews "raise questions about whether Facebook ran afoul of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that barred the social network from sharing user data without explicit permission". Facebook has said there is no evidence that data was used or misused, but such assurances aren't worth much in the current climate.

THE FACTS: As part of the settlement, Facebook is required to obtain people's "affirmative express consent" before making changes that override their privacy preferences.

Facebook admitted that some of the deals were "mismanaged", with the PR pointing to work it has already launched to review and restrict data access.

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