Senators demand answers from Zuckerberg over Facebook data access

Joshua Bennett
June 6, 2018

Facing new accusations about how it handles users' data, Facebook says "we disagree" with reports that the company exposed a wealth of private information to other tech giants as part of its plan to become ubiquitous on mobile devices.

Numerous partnerships, with companies such as Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung, remain in effect even after Facebook began to quietly unwind them in April, according to a lengthy report in the New York Times.

However, Facebook blasted back at the Times report, saying the newspaper has misinterpreted the goal and function of its so-called "device-integrated APIs" - the software that allows hardware companies to bridge into Facebook's database to offer versions of the app on their operating systems.

In addition, it said, its research showed that some device makers "could retrieve personal information even from users' friends who believed they had barred any sharing". The FTC is now investigating Facebook's privacy practices in light of the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal. According to the report, the manufacturers even had access to data about friends of the affected users, contradicting Facebook's current privacy policies.

It said Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and Amazon were among others to have struck data-sharing agreements.

The company has since terminated 22 partnerships with device makers, he added.Shares of Facebook were down 1.8% pre-market at 6:34 am in NY on Monday, following a similar trend in Europe where it was down 2.2% at the same time in Frankfurt.Facebook is retooling its approach amid a global consumer and regulatory backlash.

The APIs now in question, according to Archibong, are very different from those used by Cambridge Analytica.

Using legal agreements and Facebook-supplied code, these and other device makers could access information such as names, phone numbers and photos, all in a bid to make it easier for Facebook users to access its services - from friends' photos to their message histories - while using a smartphone.

Facebook denies it shared user data without consent. There's no evidence that anyone at any of these companies abused their access to Facebook user data. (D-NJ) meanwhile called for the Federal Trade Commission to review whether Facebook had violated its 2011 consent decree with the agency. A Times reporter logged into his Facebook account on that app, gaining access not only to detailed information about 556 friends, including sensitive stuff about religious and political leanings, but also to identifying information on 294,258 friends-of-friends.

A similar practice involving third-party apps on Facebook landed CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg before Congress during the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The company claims that these private APIs were "tightly controlled" in a statement posted on the Facebook newsroom.

Facebook's vice president of product partnerships at the social network, Ime Archibong contests the report, stating that this incident is far from Cambridge Analytica's debacle.

Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic were quick to pounce on Facebook (FB) after the New York Times reported late Sunday that the company shared personal data from its users with dozens of device makers, including Apple (AAPL) and Samsung (SSNLF). They're just extensions of Facebook itself, helping the company to serve its two billion users.

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