Facebook has once again found itself in the hot seat after a scathing investigation revealed the social media giant entered into secret deals giving their corporate partners access to more of its users’ personal data than previously admitted.
In April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress, “We don’t sell data to anyone,” during a hearing to investigate the company’s role in the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of data. Although Facebook claims that it instituted stricter privacy protections following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, hundreds of company documents obtained by the New York Times expose how Facebook allowed more than 150 companies to bypass those protections and continue to access data without informing users. The Times also conducted interviews with dozens of former Facebook employees and corporate partners which indicate the company may have violated a 2011 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) barring Facebook from sharing user data without permission.
The documents obtained by the Times detail how Facebook allowed companies like Yahoo, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple to access users’ newsfeed, friends list, private messages, and account settings. Facebook also reportedly developed a tool allowing them to turn access to users’ data on and off — even if a user had opted to disable sharing their data.
Although a Facebook spokesperson stated the company found “no evidence of abuse by its partners,” the FTC has opened an investigation into the allegations. According to David Vladeck, former head of the agency’s consumer protection bureau, “This is just giving third parties permission to harvest data without you being informed of it or giving consent to it.”
What Facebook Gave Away:
Microsoft: According to the Times report, “Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent.”
Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada: Facebook signed a contract with the companies allowing them to read, write, and delete users’ private messages. The agreement also allowed the companies to see every participant in threads, although the companies claim they were not aware of these powers.
Yahoo: Facebook gave the company access to users’ newsfeeds — including access to posts from the users’ friends — on Yahoo’s homepage.
Amazon: The online retailer was given access to users’ contact information — including their email address — through their friends.
Apple: Facebook gave the company access to users’ contact numbers and calendar entries. They also allowed the company access to entries of users who disabled data sharing and gave Apple the ability to hide its device’s collection of user data. However, Apple claims it was unaware it had such access.
While the Cambridge Analytica scandal affected approximately 87 million users and sent Facebook’s stock tumbling, the new revelations indicate Facebook’s largest partners received access to far more user data — including phone numbers and email addresses — from hundreds of millions of users every month.
As the internet continues to gain popularity, user data has become a billion dollar industry. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, American companies are expected to spend $20 billion accessing and processing consumer data by the end of 2018. In response to the commodification of personal information and blatant acts of censorship, many people are turning away from traditional social media networks in favor of decentralized platforms. As The Mind Unleashed previously reported, on January 1st, 2019 several outlets with a combined reach of millions of users have vowed to switch to the open-source platform ‘Minds’ to combat Facebook’s censorship.
In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden made global headlines when he exposed the NSA’s mass collection of data. Less than two years later WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange prophetically noted, “I think that we should understand that the game for privacy is gone. It’s gone. The mass surveillance is here to stay.”
Indeed, not only has privacy become a thing of the past, but in the digital age your private information has become a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder.