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Facebook Defends Against Device-Integrated APIs Policy, But Concerns Remain

06 June, 2018, 00:47 | Author: Janis Wilson
  • Apple was among the companies that used device-integrated APIs to serve up a version of Facebook on its hardware but the deals are now under scrutiny

However, it's come to light that said access ended up being "deep access", whereby the companies could take a peek at both a user's data and that of their friends, all without their explicit consent.

The issue here is not that a Facebook user can access data about friends and friends-of-friends-it's that they're giving a non-Facebook company's software access to that information.

The New York Times discovered that the BlackBerry phone "was also able to retrieve identifying information for almost 295,000 Facebook users" and that "Facebook empowers BlackBerry devices to access more than 50 types of information about users and their friends". It quotes Facebook officials as saying that the deal let device makers offer customers popular features of the social network.

The Cambridge Analytica controversy, which first came to light in March, led to enormous scrutiny for Facebook, numerous changes to its privacy practices, and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg appearing before lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"In the furor that followed, Facebook's leaders said that the kind of access exploited by Cambridge in 2014 was cut off by the next year, when Facebook prohibited developers from collecting information from users' friends", the New York Times says.

The Federal Trade Commission confirmed in March that it was investigating Facebook's privacy practices. So far there's no evidence that phone and tablet makers used Facebook data improperly, in sharp contrast to Cambridge Analytica consultants.

"New revelations that Facebook provided access to users' personal information, including religion, political preferences, and relationship status, to dozens of mobile device manufacturers without users' explicit consent are deeply concerning", they said in a letter.

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Next, it was déjà data-analytics vu in April, when Facebook suspended a second firm, Cubeyou, for dressing up its personal-data snarfing as "nonprofit academic research", in the form of personality quizzes, and handing over the data to marketers.

Earlier Monday, Facebook disputed a a New York Times report about how it shares data with device makers from Apple and Amazon to Samsung.

"These contracts and partnerships are entirely consistent with Facebook's FTC consent decree", Ime Archibong, Facebook's vice president of Product Partnerships, in a statement.

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. Apple and BlackBerry said that they only get enough information to be able to view users' messages or post to their Facebook accounts without opening up the app. Microsoft says that all Facebook data it collects is stored locally on the phone and never on Microsoft's servers.

Archibong says the APIs were created to fill a demand for mobile Facebook which the company couldn't fulfill alone, and were thus necessary. They said the new reports only heightened the need for additional scrutiny - in Congress and at the FTC - focused on Facebook's business practices. It argued that those device partners are not third parties but are, in fact, "service providers" and are, therefore, entitled to the same data access as Facebook itself.

Facebook already penned a blog post in response to the NYT article, but it is unclear how it will respond to this letter to Mark Zuckerberg.

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