The main thing from the investigation of The New York Times and the reaction of Facebook to the charges.
The newspaper The New York Times has published a new investigation about Facebook, based on hundreds of pages of internal documents of the company and sixty interviews with former employees of the social network and its partners.
Journalists of the publication believe that Facebook, despite the statement about the careful storage of user data, still secretly works with dozens of major technology companies, entering into an agreement with them and providing access to sensitive information.
Facebook has separate agreements with large data exchange companies.
Internal documents received by The New York Times show that Facebook could share data with more than 150 companies: technology giants, automakers, media organizations and others.
In addition to technology companies, an agreement was concluded with more than 60 manufacturers of smartphones, tablets and other devices.
Partners received detailed access to Facebook users’ data, and the social network attracted new users, increased involvement within the network and thus increased advertising revenue.
What data did Facebook provide?
Companies got access to email, phone numbers and other information of Facebook users without their obvious consent: Bing could see the names of friends and posts on the user’s wall, Netflix and Spotify had access to personal correspondence, and contact information through the friends of the user. Facebook, in turn, received contact information for partner users, including Amazon, Yahoo and Huawei.
The social network allowed Apple to hide requests to Facebook users’ data — contacts and calendar entries, despite the prohibition of their use in account settings. Apple representatives said they did not know about “special access”, and the data are available exclusively to users.
Until 2012, Yahoo displayed the Facebook user’s news feed on the main search engine page, but in 2017, after closing this feature, Yahoo could still have access to the information of 100,000 Facebook users.
According to NYT, Yandex, like one of the integration partners, had access to the unique identifiers of Facebook users even after the social network had disconnected third-party applications from accessing them.
A spokesman for Yandex reported that the company did not know about the access and that Facebook allowed it to be used. Facebook representatives in October 2018 said that Yandex was not a partner company, but in early December they told the US Congress the opposite.
Facebook has bypassed an agreement with the trade commission on the protection of user data
In accordance with the terms of the 2011 agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission, Facebook was supposed to strengthen data protection measures and disclose information about their collection methods in more detail. Facebook hired independent firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to comply with the agreement and report to the FTC every two years.
Four former officials and employees of the FTC said that data exchange transactions that The New York Times had discovered violated the agreement because users did not know that third-party companies were using their information, and the social network did not provide an opportunity to block access and find out about who got it.
At least one review by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2013 showed that Facebook did not protect user information well enough. Two former Facebook partners, Yandex and BlackBerry, who entered into an agreement with the social network in 2010, said that the social network had never tested them for access to data.
Facebook reaction to the investigation of The New York Times
Facebook claims that no partnership or tool gave third-party companies access to people’s information without their permission, and did not violate the agreement with the FTC 2012. Also, the social network claims that in 2018 the company focused on protecting information and is “in the process of eliminating many agreements.”
Steve Satterfield, spokesman and director of privacy and public policy on Facebook, said that “the company did not cope with the partner access settings, but found no evidence that the partners had abused their position.”
The company also published an extensive press release on providing access to information to users of technology companies. According to Facebook, thanks to the interaction with “integration partners,” users could access their accounts and social network functions on devices and platforms from other companies – Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, Yahoo.
Also, users got more features – viewing recommendations from their friends in other popular applications and sites: Netflix, The New York Times, Pandora and Spotify.
The agreements allowed the social network to integrate into various devices that were not officially supported, for example, Blackberry or People Hub on Windows Phone, and synchronize user information across all devices and platforms. Most of the tools that were used by partners of Facebook no longer work, since they are no longer relevant and are not supported.
Facebook has exceptions for which the partnership has been preserved – these are Amazon, Apple, Tobii services and devices and browser notifications for Alibaba, Mozilla and Opera.
Facebook also talked about the “instant personalization” feature that worked from 2010 to 2014 — users could link their Facebook account with other services (Rotten Tomatoes, Yelp, Bing, Spotify) to see the information that their friends send in these services. Now the API, which was responsible for “instant personalization”, is closed, but Facebook recognizes that the developers did not remove it completely.
Despite the fact that Facebook “has no evidence that user data was used by third parties after closing“ instant personalization ”,” in 2018, the social network checks partners and their access to the API, restricting it in case of unauthorized access.
A spokeswoman for the US Trade Commission declined to say whether the commission agrees with Facebook statements.