With the images of Mark Zuckerberg scrambling in front congress still fresh in our minds, the New York Times has uncovered additional shady Facebook practices: it turns out that the social media giant has had in place more than 60 data sharing partnerships with various device makers spanning a decade, including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft, and Samsung.
Facebook seems to have allowed the device companies to access data on users’ friends without their explicit consent. Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it? Some device makers were able to retrieve personal information through friends that had been barred any sharing. The makers could even obtain data about a user’s friends even if those friends had denied Facebook permission to share information with third parties.
During the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, Zuckerberg had said that the exploit was eventually cut off. What Facebook failed to disclose was that the company had exempted the makers of mobile devices from such restrictions.
The partnerships even sparked discussions inside Facebook; Sandy Parakilas, who at the time led third-party advertising and privacy compliance for Facebook’s platform, said that the practice was flagged internally. Parakilas later left Facebook and became a harsh critic of the company’s policies.
Facebook claims that all the practices were in compliance with all rules and regulations. It justifies the data siphoning, claiming that in the end it is meant to improve user experience and nothing else.
As we mentioned earlier, the sharing started almost a decade ago. Facebook claims that since few phones were able to run Facebook apps at the time, the partnerships were meant to allow manufacturers to integrate elements of the social network into their devices in order to provide versions of “the Facebook experience,” a Facebook official said.
The New York Times report also says that while Facebook began winding down partnerships starting in April, most of them remain in effect.
Two days later, the Washington Post reported that Facebook had admitted to granting Huawei special access to its users’ data. This is particularly troubling as Huawei is suspect of having ties to the Chinese government.
China has been rapidly turning into a dystopian police state. The country plans to introduce a social ranking system and is already testing machine image recognition to spot offenders around its cities. Huawei is on the Pentagon’s no-buy list, sales of Huawei smartphones on U.S. military bases are banned.