Your smartphone was probably sharing your friends’ Facebook data behind your back


Facebook, which is already under scrutiny for misuse of millions of its users' data after the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal became public, reportedly 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.

The agreements that Facebook entered raise "concerns about the company's privacy protections and compliance with a 2011 consent decree" with the Federal Trade Commission, the NYT report said.

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.

In a piece entitled "Why We Disagree with The New York Times", Facebook pushed back strongly against the claims. "We tightly controlled these APIs from the get-go", Ime Archibong, Facebook's vice president of product partnerships, said in an interview. Shares of Facebook are down 1.5% in premarket trading but up 26% over the past 12 months, while the S&P 500 has gained 12%.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement Monday that "the news that Facebook struck "data-sharing" partnerships with other corporations is yet another reminder of the many questions that remain unanswered". The company said that since iOS and Android are so popular now, not many need these APIs to offer their own custom Facebook experiences. This was to the extent that some companies could retrieve data on a Facebook user's friends even when such sharing was thought to have been barred.

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The social network added that it was not aware of there being any abuse of the shared data.

The article, posted Sunday, said Facebook reached data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device-makers - including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Samsung - over the last decade. From there, the BlackBerry Hub could access information from 556 of the user's friends; including relationship status, political leanings, and events. "As always we're working closely with our partners to provide alternative ways for people to still use Facebook", concluded Facebook's vice president of product partnerships.

Amazon and Samsung have yet to comment.

A Microsoft representative said the company started working with Facebook in 2008 but said no data was synced with Microsoft servers as it was stored locally on the phones powered by Microsoft. The reporters found that the app not only accessed extensive information about the reporter's profile, it got ahold of similar data from his friends, and from friends of friends, too. Usually collected when users log into their accounts through the Facebook app. "And if we find that someone improperly used data, we're going to ban them from Facebook and tell everyone affected", he added.