Facebook in row over user data… Again.

Saturday, 9 June, 2018

Facebook accused of granting device makers access to their users’ data: Beleaguered Facebook has become embroiled in yet another controversy after it was revealed they had given inappropriate access to its users’ data to more than 60 device makers, including Amazon, Blackberry and Samsung.

According to the New York Times, Facebook had struck data-sharing partnerships with the device makers so that they could offer Facebook messaging functions such as Like buttons, address books and other features that did not require the user to install a separate app.

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal Facebook assured American legislators that it had ceased allowing such third-party access in 2015. But it now seems this did not include ‘makers of cell phones, tablets and other hardware.’

One New York Times reporter found that his 2013 Blackberry device was harvesting private data on his 550 Facebook friends, including their religious and political views.

And, it transpired that the Blackberry app, called ‘The Hub’ has also acquired ‘identifying information’ for 294,258 friends of his Facebook friends.

Facebook hit back at the New York Times in a blogpost entitled ‘Why we disagree with The New York Times.’

In the post Facebook argued it had created the APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for Amazon, Apple, Blackberry, Samsung and other device makers so that they could provide Facebook features on their operating systems at a time when there were no apps or even app stores.

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 systems. 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 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.

Contrary to claims by The New York Times, friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when the people made the decision to share their information with those friends. We are not aware of any abuse by these companies.

- Ime Archibong: VP, Product Partnerships

Since the early days, Facebook claimed it had been running down these agreements and so far, ended 22 of these partnerships.

Despite this The New York Times believes that currently Facebook would be in breach of the 2011 consenting decree by America’s Federal Trade Commission which barred Facebook from granting other companies access to the data of users’ Facebook friends without their explicit consent.

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.