The New York Times is reporting that Facebook had “far-reaching data partnerships” with roughly sixty mobile phone manufacturers that allowed them to obtain private Facebook user data without their permission.
The list of device manufacturers includes Apple, Blackberry, Samsung and Microsoft, and the agreements allowed them to harvest Facebook user information like relationship status, religion and political affiliations. It also, The Times says, allowed the data of users’ Facebook friends to be collected as well, also without their permission.
Facebook only started to wind those relationships down in April 2018, according to the piece. The story drew harsh criticism from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“Sure looks like [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg lied to Congress about whether users have ‘complete control’ over who sees our data on Facebook. This needs to be investigated and the people responsible need to be held accountable,” wrote Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) on Twitter.
Zuckerberg testified before Congress in April over a data breach from 2015 in which a data analytics firm, using a third-party app inappropriately harvested the data of what was believed to be 50 million Facebook users without their approval. Subsequent revelations would show the number to be closer to 87 million.
Facebook was widely condemned for failing to notify users of the breach and for not following up to ensure the data was deleted by the data analytics firm, as had been requested. The company only issued a when the story became public earlier this year.
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake. And I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here,” Zuckerberg said in a statement during his testimony.
“But I’m committed to getting this right. And I believe that, over the coming years, once we fully work all these solutions through, people will see real differences,” he would add.
The company has challenged the assertions laid out in this week’s Times article.
“These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook 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. And our partnership and engineering teams approved the Facebook experiences these companies built,” wrote Ime Archibong, Facebook’s VP of Product Partnerships in a blog post.
“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. We are not aware of any abuse by these companies.”
Facebook has endured months of negative publicity over privacy issues and the way it handles users’ data. These latest revelations seems to have revived interest Congress has in the company and the way it protects user data.
“It feels a lot like we’ve been here before, @facebook. Would you like to revisit your previous statements to Congress about sharing users’ data with third-parties without their consent?” wrote Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on Twitter this week.
Photo by Brian Solis via Flickr