Social media giant Facebook signed data-sharing agreements with at least 60 device makers, including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung, allowing these companies access to the data of users and their friends without their explicit consent even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders, The New York Times reported on Monday.
The agreements allowed the social media company expand its reach and let the phone makers offer customers popular Facebook features. In April, Facebook started ending the agreements though most of them still remain in effect.
The company has been under intense scrutiny in the past few months after it became public that British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed private information of 87 million Facebook users. The company also failed to identify alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in the United States.
Senior Facebook officials, however, defended the data-sharing agreements and claimed that they do no violate the US Federal Trade Commission’s 2011 consent decree and are consistent with the company’s privacy policies. “These partnerships work very differently from the way in which app developers use our platform,” Ime Archibong, a Facebook vice president, told The New York Times.
Though the company claimed that the company’s device partners can use the data to only provide “the Facebook experience”, these companies can access data about a user’s Facebook friends, even those who have denied the social media company permission to share information with third parties. “It is like having door locks installed, only to find out that the locksmith also gave keys to all of his friends so they can come in and rifle through your stuff without having to ask you for permission,” Ashkan Soltani, a research and privacy consultant, told the newspaper.
The partnerships were briefly mentioned in documents the company submitted to German legislators investigating its privacy practices. Facebook released the documents last month, but provided the lawmakers with the name of only one partner – BlackBerry – and little information about how its agreement with the device maker worked.
Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, one of the legislators who questioned Facebook Vice President for Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan in April, said the data partnership violated the privacy of users. “What we have been trying to determine is whether Facebook has knowingly handed over user data elsewhere without explicit consent,” Winkelmeier-Becker told The New York Times. “I would never have imagined that this might even be happening secretly via deals with device makers. BlackBerry users seem to have been turned into data dealers, unknowingly and unwillingly.”