NYT: Facebook gave big tech access to user data

A New York Times report says Facebook shared users' personal data with other tech giants. CNN's Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto discuss Facebook's response.

Posted: Dec 20, 2018 9:44 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2018 10:07 AM

Facebook offered more of its users' data to companies including Microsoft and Amazon than it has admitted, according to a new report by The New York Times.

The Times reported late Tuesday that it obtained internal Facebook (FB) documents that show how the social media giant arranged to share data with more than 150 companies. The deals helped Facebook gain more users, according to the report, and its partners were able to add new features to their products while effectively avoiding Facebook's usual privacy rules.

Many of the partnerships ended years ago, but the details reported by the Times are striking.

Amazon (AMZN) got access to Facebook users' names and contact information through their friends on the social network, according to the report, while Microsoft's (MSFT) search engine Bing was allowed to "see the names of virtually all Facebook users' friends without consent." Streaming services Netflix (NFLX) and Spotify (SPOT) had the "ability to read Facebook users' private messages," it said.

CNN has not independently viewed the internal documents obtained by the Times.

Despite assurances from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that people "have complete control" over who sees their content, The Times said the internal documents and interviews with 50 former Facebook employees indicated that the company still gave other firms access to user data.

The company's partnerships with Amazon and Apple (AAPL) are still continuing today.

The revelations come at a trying time for Facebook, which has faced a litany of criticism over how it handles user data. The social network said in April that data firm Cambridge Analytica may have harvested information on as many as 87 million users without their knowledge. In October, Facebook revealed that hackers gained access to the phone numbers and email addresses of almost 30 million of its users.

In response to the Times report, Facebook's director of privacy and public policy, Steve Satterfield, said in a statement that its partners "don't get to ignore people's privacy settings."

Facebook has 'work to do' to regain trust

"Over the years, we've partnered with other companies so people can use Facebook on devices and platforms that we don't support ourselves," he said. "Unlike a game, streaming music service, or other third-party app, which offer experiences that are independent of Facebook, these partners can only offer specific Facebook features and are unable to use information for independent purposes."

Facebook knows it's "got work to do to regain people's trust," Satterfield added. "Partnerships are one area of focus and, as we've said, we're winding down the integration partnerships that were built to help people access Facebook."

The Times said the documents and interviews "raise questions about whether Facebook ran afoul of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that barred the social network from sharing user data without explicit permission."

Satterfield said, the Times reported, that the 2011 FTC agreement "did not require the social network to secure users' consent before sharing data because Facebook considered the partners extensions of itself — service providers that allowed users to interact with their Facebook friends."

In a separate statement posted on Facebook's website, the company said it had not violated the FTC agreement.

"To be clear: 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," wrote Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook's director of developer platforms and programs.

Papamiltiadis said, however, that "we recognize that we've needed tighter management over how partners and developers can access information."

Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Apple and Spotify respond

An Amazon spokesman said in a statement to CNN that it uses the software interfaces "provided by Facebook in order to enable Facebook experiences for our products," such as giving "customers the option to sync Facebook contacts on an Amazon Tablet."

Amazon uses the information in accordance with its own privacy policy, he said.

Microsoft said that data supplied by Facebook stopped appearing in Bing search results after the contract between the two companies ended in February 2016.

"Throughout our engagement with Facebook, we respected all user preferences," Microsoft said in a statement.

Netflix said that it launched a feature in 2014 that "enabled members to recommend TV shows and movies to their Facebook friends via Messenger or Netflix," but that "at no time did we access people's private messages on Facebook, or ask for the ability to do so."

The feature "was never that popular so we shut the feature down in 2015," Netflix said in a statement.

An Apple spokesman referred CNN to a paragraph in the Times article citing Apple officials as saying they were unaware that Facebook had granted the company's devices any special access. Any shared data would remain on the devices and be available to anyone other than the users, according to Apple.

Spotify said in a statement that its integration with Facebook was designed to help users share and discover music.

"Previously, when users shared music from Spotify, they could add on text that was visible to Spotify," the statement said. "This has since been discontinued. We have no evidence that Spotify ever accessed users' private Facebook messages."

Most of the companies with which Facebook shared data under the arrangements were tech firms such as "online retailers and entertainment sites," according to the report, but they also included automakers and media organizations. The Times reported that it was one of those media groups.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 93087

Reported Deaths: 2809
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6956155
DeSoto539355
Harrison372772
Jackson337867
Madison320086
Rankin318875
Lee258567
Jones239978
Forrest238270
Washington217471
Lafayette207239
Lauderdale1994124
Bolivar179065
Oktibbeha174750
Lamar162134
Neshoba1534103
Panola144027
Sunflower141144
Lowndes139857
Warren138050
Leflore136280
Pontotoc122516
Pike120948
Monroe118365
Scott116125
Copiah115933
Coahoma112327
Holmes109158
Marshall107515
Lincoln106253
Grenada105335
Yazoo103629
Simpson101243
Union97824
Tate95137
Leake93937
Adams91736
Wayne87421
Pearl River86250
Marion84133
Prentiss80817
Covington80622
Alcorn76811
Newton75623
Itawamba75221
Tallahatchie74918
George74413
Winston72319
Tishomingo65737
Chickasaw65224
Tippah64216
Attala64125
Walthall59325
Clay57117
Hancock56121
Jasper54915
Noxubee54315
Clarke53539
Smith52114
Calhoun50612
Tunica47913
Montgomery45420
Claiborne45116
Lawrence42512
Yalobusha41614
Perry40617
Humphreys37315
Quitman3735
Stone35011
Greene34317
Webster33113
Jefferson Davis32511
Amite31210
Carroll31212
Wilkinson30217
Kemper28615
Sharkey26312
Jefferson2399
Benton2181
Franklin1893
Choctaw1785
Issaquena1033
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128818

Reported Deaths: 2284
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18911337
Mobile13039289
Montgomery8628173
Madison750775
Tuscaloosa7180114
Lee570559
Shelby564550
Baldwin504749
Marshall382143
Etowah333447
Calhoun332039
Morgan318126
Houston269922
Elmore251947
DeKalb234619
St. Clair221335
Walker220780
Talladega205026
Limestone197319
Cullman183017
Franklin174128
Dallas173626
Russell17112
Autauga167324
Lauderdale164133
Colbert159326
Escambia155725
Blount154214
Jackson149411
Chilton147127
Dale132743
Covington130227
Coffee12708
Pike11519
Tallapoosa113183
Chambers112342
Clarke104917
Marion93728
Butler90838
Barbour8307
Marengo69919
Winston69912
Lowndes64527
Pickens63114
Bibb62810
Hale61228
Randolph60712
Bullock58514
Lawrence58220
Monroe5758
Geneva5634
Cherokee55516
Washington54413
Perry5376
Clay5367
Wilcox53011
Conecuh52311
Crenshaw52231
Macon47620
Henry4674
Fayette4189
Sumter41819
Lamar3452
Choctaw34412
Cleburne3206
Greene30015
Coosa1613
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 74°
Columbus
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 76°
Oxford
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 70°
Starkville
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 73°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather