Facebook gave Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix and others unfettered access to user data

Facebook claims that its users had already agreed to share data with third parties.

It looks like Facebook cannot catch a break, not that it deserves one. No sooner are we out from one controversy, than another issue is waiting to be unveiled.

The latest PR disaster, highlighted by a New York Times investigation, yet again throws light on Facebook’s opaque user data sharing policies.

Even though CEO Mark Zuckerberg has told the US Congress that Facebook does not sell user data, documents examined by NYT and a glance through the email stash that was made public by the UK Parliament earlier this month point to the fact that Facebook does strike information sharing deals with the highest bidders.

Mark Zuckerberg , CEO of Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg , CEO of Facebook.

According to the NYT report, the Microsoft-owned Bing search engine could see the names of virtually all our Facebook friends without any consent, Netflix and Spotify were even allowed to read Facebook users’ private messages, Amazon was allowed to access users’ names and contacts through their friends and much more.

The investigation, which involved going through over 270 pages of Facebook internal documents and interviewing over 50 former Facebook employees, shows that Facebook had shared data with around 150 companies. This user data was shared without telling the users themselves and irrespective of the users’ privacy settings. These 150 companies include businesses, automakers and media houses, among others.

Facebook has obviously denied the allegations made in the NYT report. "None of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people's permission, nor did they violate our 2012 settlement with the FTC," Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook's director of developer platforms and programs, said in a blog post.

While Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon acknowledged to NYT that they used the shared data appropriately, they were not willing to come on record to discuss the data sharing deals they had struck with Facebook. Spokespeople for Spotify and Netflix claimed that these companies were not aware of the broad powers they were granted by Facebook. Even Russian site Yandex, which is alleged to have close ties with the Kremlin, was given unfettered access to user data till very recently.

These data sharing deals also included around 60 smartphone makers.

Facebook claimed that it did what it did to help users access their Facebook accounts or specific features on devices and platforms built by other companies like Apple, Amazon, Blackberryand Yahoo, known as integration partners.

The company claimed that these partners got access to messages but users “had to explicitly sign in to Facebook first” before using a partner’s messaging feature.

As a result of these allegations, the stock prices of Facebook saw a drop. Top management has long been asking for the removal of Zuckerberg from the role of chairman. Thirty-one organisations including Muslim advocates, MoveOn, Southern Poverty Law Centre, the National LGBTQ Task Force, among others have co-signed a letter asking for the removal of CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

You can read the complete NYT investigation here.

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