The New York Times is out with a report alleging that Facebook improperly let other companies have access to users' personal information—and even their friends' information. Facebook has quickly pushed back against the allegations. The Times says that Facebook set up data-sharing agreements with at least 60 device-makers such as Apple, BlackBerry, Amazon, Microsoft, and Samsung over the last 10 years. The deals were arranged before Facebook apps were as widely available as they are today, and most remain in effect, though the story quotes one former Facebook employee who says the issue "was flagged internally as a privacy issue" back in 2012. The newspaper asserts that the deals might violate Facebook's consent decree with the FTC:
- Key paragraph: "Facebook allowed the device companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders. Some device makers could retrieve personal information even from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing."
- Friends of friends: On the above point, the story says that one reporter discovered that the BlackBerry Hub gleaned private data, including political leanings and events they planned to attend, from 556 of his friends. It then could access info on 294,258 friends of his friends.
- Facebook's defense: In a detailed blog post, the company said these deals have been closely controlled, and "we are not aware of any abuse by these companies." Plus, these application programming interfaces, or APIs, are no longer as necessary today and thus "we're winding down access to them."
- Trouble? Engadget notes that the story has caught the attention of Democratic congressman and privacy advocate David Cicilline of Rhode Island. "Sure looks like Zuckerberg lied to Congress about whether users have 'complete control' over who sees our data on Facebook," he tweeted. "This needs to be investigated and the people responsible need to be held accountable."
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