Facebook defends data-sharing deals with more than 60 device makers - including Apple and Blackberry
Facebook downplays New York Times report suggesting data-sharing deals breached consent decree with the FTC
Facebook has hit back at a New York Times report suggesting the company gave device makers "deep access to data". saying it "disagrees with the issues they've raised about these APIs".
Data-sharing partnerships struck with at least 60 device makers, including Apple, Samsung, and Blackberry, stretch back 10 years to before Facebook apps were widely available on smartphones, according to company officials who spoke to the New York Times.
These deals allowed the social networking giant to grow its reach and let device makers offer features such as messaging, and 'like' buttons, but raise concerns about privacy protections, and compliance with a consent decree agreed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2011 which prevented Facebook from overriding users' privacy settings without consent.
"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," wrote authors Gabriel JX Dance, Nicholas Confessore and Michael LaForgia.
But "all these partnerships were built on a common interest", according to Ime Archibong, Facebook's vice president of product partnerships, in a post published on Facebook's newsroom, and the company "controlled them tightly from the get-go".
Because smartphones were less powerful at the time, with few able to run standalone apps, the company built private application programming interfaces (APIs) for device makers to recreate the Facebook experience.
"These partners signed agreements that prevented people's Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences," Archibong wrote.
"Partners could not integrate the user's Facebook features with their devices without the user's permission. And our partnership and engineering teams approved the Facebook experiences these companies built.
"Contrary to claims by the New York Times, friends' information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends. We are not aware of any abuse by these companies."
An example was used to highlight the scale of data-sharing these partnerships enabled, with co-author LaForgia using the Hub app on a Blackberry Z10 to log into Facebook.
The New York Times demonstrated that after logging into Facebook, the Hub app was able to retrieve data on 556 of LaForgia's friends, as well as access information on 294,258 of his friends of friends.
Facebook has said it has already ended 22 of these partnerships, and said it would wind down access to APIs in April as fewer users are reliant on such Facebook experiences, although the New York Times claims most of the partnerships remain in effect.
Concerns over data sharing practices across the social network have been magnified in light of the burgeoning Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the now-defunct data-powered political consultancy firm came under fire for the way in which it gained access to Facebook users' data, and allegedly misused this information in political campaigns.
Facebook itself is subject to a number of probes set up in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica; for instance one of 30 companies falling within the scope of an Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) investigation into the misuse of data in elections.
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