Facebook Gave Phone Makers Access to Users, Their Friends’ Data

The NYT used the BlackBerry Hub app to see the extent Facebook shares information with phone manufacturers.

Tech and Auto
3 min read
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the US Senate hearing.

In its pursuit to become the biggest social media platform, Facebook had struck agreements with about 60 device manufacturers, including Apple, Samsung, Blackberry, and Microsoft, allowing them access to users’ personal data, The New York Times reported.

The social media giant, in yet another distrust with users’ data, struck partnerships with these manufacturers even before the Facebook app was launched, allowing them to offer Facebook features on their devices, NYT reported.

These partnerships come in the wake of data leak scandals surrounding the company. It further raises concerns about the company’s privacy regulations and compliance with a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission.

According to NYT, Facebook even allowed the companies to access the data of users’ friends even without their consent

Some device makers, as NYT found out, were able to access information even from users’ friends who had stopped sharing.

How this is different from the Cambridge Analytica (CA) situation is that Facebook said that the kind of access exploited by CA in 2014 was cut off by the next year, when Facebook prohibited developers from collecting information from users’ friends. But here, the company executives have not even disclosed that they exempted device manufacturers from such restrictions.

These details have emerged at a time when the tech world is going through a sensitive time towards protecting the volume of personal information on the internet.

How NYT Used a BlackBerry App to Gain Access to Information

  • An NYT reporter used the Hub app on a Blackberry device to log onto Facebook.
  • After logging in, the Blackberry Hub app retrieved detailed information of all of his friends.
  • It isn’t just limited to data of one’s friends. The Hub app was also able to access information – including unique identifiers – about 294,258 friends of friends of the NYT reporter.

What Data Manufacturers Have Access to

The device manufacturers have access to information like relationship status, religious and political leanings to even events they planned to attend. Facebook has said that it cut off third parties' access to this type of information in 2015, but doesn’t consider BlackBerry a third party in this case.

This revelation also comes after Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive officer of Facebook, testified in front of the Congress saying, “Every piece of content that you share on Facebook is you own... You have complete control over who sees it and how you share it.”

Facebook Says This Doesn’t Raise Privacy Concerns

Facebook has defended the pacts saying that these partnerships do not raise privacy concerns, IANS reported.

The social media giant said that the partners signed agreements that prevented people’s information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences.

"Partners could not integrate the user's Facebook features with their devices without the user's permission," Ime Archibong, Facebook's Vice President of Product Partnerships, said in a statement on Sunday.

Archibong said that in the early days of mobile, the demand for Facebook outpaced the company's 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. 
Ime Archibong, Vice President of Product Partnership, Facebook

"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," Archibong added.

Facebook launched the device-integrated APIs about a decade ago and said that all these partnerships were built on a common interest – the desire for people to be able to use Facebook whatever their device or operating system.

"Given that these APIs enabled other companies to recreate the Facebook experience, we controlled them tightly from the get-go," Archibong said.

(With inputs from The New York Times and IANS.)

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