Facebook Slammed With Potential Data Privacy Violations For 'Private APIs' 06/05/2018

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

Facebook partnerships with certain device makers allowed them access to personal data without permission

This could constitute a violation of Facebook's Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 2011 privacy decree since Facebook was granting device makers access to a user's relationship status, political views, education history, religion, and much more without receiving explicit consent.

US Congressman David Cicilline, who has introduced a bill meant to curb Facebook and Google's influence in the news industry, said the Times report raises questions about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg's testimony before Congress earlier this year.

The data-sharing partnerships, made a decade ago, were highlighted by The New York Times, which reports that in some cases, "device makers could retrieve personal information even from users' friends who believed they had barred any sharing".

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.

"These partnerships work very differently from the way in which app developers use our platform", Ime Archibong, a Facebook vice president, told The New York Times. It monitored what data was transmitted when a reporter's Facebook account with 550 friends was connected to a BlackBerry.

These partners [device-maker companies] signed agreements that prevented people's Facebook information from being used for any other objective than to recreate Facebook-like experiences.

However, Archibong did not specify in his post what data was collected, or what the agreements entailed.

Zuckerberg appeared before congress in April following the revelation that Facebook had exposed data on up to 87 million users to Cambridge Analytica, a research firm that worked with the Trump campaign.

Why it matters: Had this happened before the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it might not seem quite so shady.

Lawmakers were quick to call into question Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's recent testimony on Capitol Hill, claiming the tech titan had misled members of Congress on the company's practice of providing data to third-party entities.

To put this in plain English, what Facebook did, according to both the Times story and the Facebook blog posting, was to let mobile-phone and tablet makers build their own Facebook apps at a time when few people had smartphones, and even smartphones were dependent on what their makers included.

"Given that these APIs enabled other companies to recreate the Facebook experience, we controlled them tightly from the get-go", it states. "It feels a lot like we've been here before, @facebook", he wrote. Facebook couldn't develop its own mobile apps for these devices because there would have been no way to get them onto the phones.

Zuckerberg has recently apologised for the fact that Facebook often didn't always protect user privacy and didn't consider how its service could be misused by malicious actors until it was too late.

Amazon, Apple and Samsung also did not respond to a request for comment.

A Blackberry spokesman said the company "did not collect or mine" the data given by Facebook.

The new accusations center on Facebook's use of special APIs - application programming interfaces - that it created to allow users' data and profile information to be integrated into devices.

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