Facebook Shared User Data With Select Companies After Shutting Access For Developers: Report

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Facebook reportedly had special deals with select companies to provide additional user information — even after it shut down access of such data to all other developers.

Facebook provided additional information about a user’s Facebook friends to companies such as Nissan and RBC Capital Markets in customized data-sharing deals, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The special access also extended beyond 2015, when the Menlo Park-based social network said it cut off providing developers with such information, according to the report.

Facebook pushed back on the Journal’s report in a statement provided to this news organization, saying the deals were provided by Facebook as an “extension” to developers in 2014 before the 2015 change in their platform app programming interfaces (API). The company also dismissed that the deals helped share additional user data and said they “ended several years ago.”

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“Any new ‘deals’, as the Journal describes them, involved people’s ability to share their broader friends’ lists — not their friends’ private information like photos or interests — with apps under the more restricted version of the API,” said Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships.

But Facebook told the Journal that it provided access through these deals — known internally as “whitelists” — mainly “to improve the user experience, test new features and allow certain partners to wind down previously existing data-sharing projects.”

However, it is unclear how many companies agreed to the whitelists and for exactly how long.

Facebook also told the Journal it allowed a “small number” of partners to access data about a user’s friends, despite Facebook in April 2015 no longer making third-party apps able to gather data on a user’s friends.

Before the changes were implemented, app developers such as Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan were able to collect information on up to 87 million Facebook users because they were friends of about 270,000 users who used Kogan’s quiz app and agreed to share their data. Kogan’s app and the subsequent data collection were at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the British political data firm used Kogan’s data for political campaigns.

Through the whitelists, partnering companies received information such as phone numbers of the users’ friends and a metric called “friend link,” which measured the closeness between the user and the friend, according to the Journal.

Despite Facebook’s policy changes and apologies from CEO Mark Zuckerberg following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook continued to reel from new privacy-related revelations. In the past two weeks, the New York Times reported that Facebook had data-sharing contracts with 60 device makers — including Apple, Samsung and the Chinese manufacturers Huawei and Lenovo.

Facebook, in a blog post, pushed back on the Times’ reporting, saying the agreements prevented user data from being used other than “to recreate Facebook-like experiences” in the devices.

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

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In Friday’s statement, Archibong called the Journal report as a “rehash of last weekend’s New York Times story.”

Facebook’s deals with Huawei drew special scrutiny, as heads of CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of U.S. national intelligence in February warned Americans from using Huawei devices because they were concerned the company shared data with the Chinese government.

On Wednesday, Huawei said it never collected or stored Facebook user data, according to the Associated Press.

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After Facebook’s deal with Huawei became public, U.S. senators from both parties raised concern. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a statement it raised “legitimate concerns”; Sen. Mark Rubio, R-Fla., said on Twitter “this could be a very big problem.”

Source : https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/06/08/facebook-shared-user-data-with-select-companies-after-shutting-access-for-developers-report/

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