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Facebook responds to claims that it shared users' private messages

20 December 2018

It had an opening to detail all the companies that had special arrangements for account information for purposes such as recommending Netflix movies that I liked to my contacts on Facebook Messenger.

A Facebook executive insisted that these privileges were necessary for Spotify.

He has likened Facebook's latest actions towards other companies to a monopoly and said that the Competition and Markets Authority should investigate its actions.

Facebook played a central role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. That appears to be the case here, too. Maybe those special deals were fine to make, met the smell test of consent from Facebook users, and complied with Facebook's 2011 agreement with the US government to never again share user information without people's explicit permission.

Steve Satterfield, who is Facebook director of privacy and public policy, claims users' consent wasn't needed for the partnerships because Facebook considered the partners extensions of itself.

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People are mad at Facebook, and they should be.

The New York Times was one of the companies that had access to private user data from Facebook, a key point brushed over in a report released by the paper. Streaming services Netflix (NFLX) and Spotify (SPOT) had the "ability to read Facebook users' private messages", it said.

According to the NYT report, Facebook offered these companies access to everything from friends lists to private messages, even after it claimed it no longer offered such access to anyone.

The company has also been in the hot seat for not doing enough to prevent abuse from Russian trolls that posted misinformation and divisive content on the platform.

The permissions issue came up earlier this year, when Facebook was found to have been collecting call and text histories from Android users. Data wasn't used for advertising and has since been deleted, the company told the Times. They also underscore how personal data has become, The Times reported, "the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond".

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At their root, disclosures about Facebook's data deals undermine trust in the company. "Our API provided partners with access to the person's messages in order to power this type of feature". But, he added, "the growth team will charge ahead and do it".

Other companies mentioned in the Times' report denied using their partnership with Facebook to violate users' privacy.

Thus, Facebook's assertion that most of its data-sharing partnerships were exempted is on shaky ground.

"Any shared data would remain on the devices and be available to anyone other than the users", the statement read.

He argued the company considered the data partnerships as part of its own operation, providers that allowed for more engagements on the platform. As of 2017, more than 150 companies enjoyed this kind of no-questions-asked access under bilateral deals with Facebook which effectively allowed to firms to bypass the service's updated privacy rules.

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Facebook responds to claims that it shared users' private messages