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Facebook Gave Device Makers ‘Deep Access’ to User Data

Facebook Gave Device Makers ‘Deep Access’ to User Data

A report by The New York Times accuses Facebook of giving inappropriately “deep access” to user data to such companies as Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, and many others.

 Facebook has reached data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device makers — including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung — over the last decade, starting before Facebook apps were widely available on smartphones, company officials said. The deals allowed Facebook to expand its reach and let device makers offer customers popular features of the social network, such as messaging, “like” buttons and address books.

The Times report says the level of this access that was given to companies raises concerns about the social network’s compliance with FTC privacy legislation. The social network rejects such claims, saying its deals were above board and “tightly” controlled.

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.

The Times offers at least one example of how the online company’s APIs share data. A reporter used a 2013 model BlackBerry phone, logging into BlackBerry’s proprietary Hub software with his Facebook account. (Hub offers combined access to social network feeds, messages and email.)

After logging in, the reporter was able to retrieve data about his 556 Facebook friends, PLUS “identifying information” about nearly 300,000 friends of the reporter’s friends.

That level of data sharing is against Facebook’s current privacy policy, which only allows third-party apps to request the names of users’ friends.

The revelation brings back memories of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revealed that Facebook’s less than strict privacy policy allowed the analytics firm to harvest huge amounts of user data from the social network.

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