How Facebook Shared Data With Partners Without You Knowing

Konstantinos Papamiltiadis

Konstantinos Papamiltiadis

If you thought that was bad enough, it gets even worse: Facebook also allowed businesses to view "streams" of a given users' friends' posts regardless of privacy settings. It is noteworthy that Facebook users are allowed to hide their Friends' list from not only outsiders but also from those on their list.

In their defense, Netflix and Spotify have claimed that they were unaware of the special access. The movie-rating site Rotten Tomatoes and the music-streaming site Pandora weren't cut off until late summer, according to the Times.

The social media giant said in a blog post that experimental features no longer offered required granting read/write access to the companies.

Perhaps most alarmingly, a Russian search company, Yandex, was allegedly allowed to see user IDs as late as previous year, after Facebook was supposed to have cut even partner companies off from that information.

The partnerships allowed Facebook to grow, and other companies - from tech, to retail, to entertainment - could access certain data. He said the experiences were only available when users logged into the services through Facebook and were shut down almost three years ago. First, people could access their Facebook accounts or specific Facebook features on devices and platforms built by other companies like Apple, Amazon, Blackberry and Yahoo.

Steve Satterfield, Facebook's director of privacy and public policy, told the Times none of the partnerships violated users' privacy, or a 2011 agreement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to require explicit permission from members before sharing their data. Some, the Times notes, were still in effect this year.

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The investigation by The New York Times was based on hundreds of pages of internal Facebook documents and interviews with about 50 former employees of Facebook and its partners, and found the marketplace for users' data is even bigger than many consumers suspected.

Microsoft said it took steps to make sure it was respecting user privacy when using Facebook data.

The Times report raises concern about Facebook's 2011 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, which states the company can not share user data "without explicit permission".

Netflix replied to the story in a tweet, saying that it "never asked for, or accessed, anyone's private messages". Users would have done this by using their Facebook account to log in to the other services, which, technically, counted as giving permission. We shut down instant personalisation, which powered Bing's features, in 2014 and we wound down our partnerships with device and platform companies months ago, following an announcement in April.

For some advocates, the torrent of user data flowing out of Facebook has called into question not only Facebook's compliance with the FTC agreement, but also the agency's approach to privacy regulation. The partners were prohibited from using the personal information for other purposes, he said. The agency said in March it was looking into whether Facebook engaged in unfair acts that might have violated the decree.

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