Facebook shared user data with device-makers, raising new data privacy concerns

Facebook has data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 phone and electronic device makers, the New York Times reports. Device companies include Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft, and Samsung and some partnerships have been in effect for a decade. The report raises new questions about the scale of personal data Facebook shares as concerns grow regarding Facebook’s business practices and online data privacy more broadly.

An investigation by the New York Times found that “some device partners can retrieve Facebook users’ relationship status, religion, political leaning and upcoming events, among other data.” What’s more, Facebook does not treat the device makers like third parties – meaning Facebook allowed its partners to obtain data about users’ Facebook friends – “even those who have denied Facebook permission to share information with any third parties.”

In hearings before Congress in April, lawmakers raised serious concerns about the user data Facebook shares to turn a profit. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked Zuckerberg, “would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” “Um, no,” Zuckerberg replied. Durbin followed up: “if you’ve messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?” “Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here,” Zuckerberg replied. “I think that might be what this is all about,” Durbin concluded, “your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you'd give away in modern America.”

In response to the Times report, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who is ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, weighed in and called for regulatory action. “It’s deeply concerning that Facebook continues to withhold critical details about the information it has and shares with others,” Pallone said. “This is just the latest example of Facebook only coming forward when forced to do so by a media outlet.”

“The Federal Trade Commission must conduct a full review to determine if the consent decree was violated,” the lawmaker concluded. “Facebook and other data collectors, including these device manufacturers, should be prepared to come before Congress so that we can get a better grasp of the entire data collection ecosystem, and how people’s personal information is being shared and used.”

Freedom From Facebook, a new coalition, has launched a petition demanding the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) curb Facebook’s power. Specifically, the coalition’s petition urges the regulators to “spin off Instagram, WhatsApps, and Messenger into competing networks, require interoperability, so we have the freedom to communicate across social networks, and impose strong privacy rules that empower and protect us.” You can read the full petition at freedomfromfb.com



Facebook Gave Device Makers Deep Access to Data on Users and Friends (New York Times, June 3, 2018)

In hearings before Congress, Zuckerberg can’t name single Facebook competitor (Speed Matters, Apr. 13, 2018)

Pallone on latest Facebook privacy reports (E&C Democrats, June 4, 2018)

Coalition demands FTC curb Facebook’s power (Speed Matters, May 21, 2018)