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Facebook caught giving at least 60 big-name companies “deep access” to user data

Facebook integration has been a thing for quite some time, with the social media firm giving companies access to its users’ data via built-in address books, like systems and log-in features. While this sounds relatively harmless, Facebook has now been caught giving Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Blackberry and at least 56 other manufacturers “deep access” to each user and their friends without consent.

The New York Times reports that this has been a long-term partnership with the companies over the last decade, in the social media platform’s bid to gain dominance. This deal supposedly continued even after Facebook made it known it would comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s consent decree, which was meant to put a stop to the gathering of data without a direct agreement between the party and the firm.

This is but another skeleton out of Facebook’s closet, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal that saw founder Mark Zuckerberg in front of the US Congress. During investigations, the platform emphasised that it had previously put measures in place back in 2014, that hoped to limit the amount of data third-party firms could gather.

What it failed to declare, however, was that the 60 companies it had made a deal with were exempt from such policies, retaining their ability to access the data of users’ friends without consent.

According to the report, Apple stopped accessing Facebook data last September, while Microsoft used its access to the data for notification and contact purposes only, holding no data on its own servers. Blackberry similarly refrained from touching the data aside from its intended access, and Samsung refused to address the matter publicly.

Image: Mark Zuckerberg facing the US Congress.

Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships at the social network, Ime Archibong contests the report, stating that this incident is far from Cambridge Analytica’s debacle. The deals were apparently made prior to the widespread access to the Android and iOS application, which was non-existent at the time.

“In the early days of mobile, the demand for Facebook outpaced our ability to build versions of the product that worked on every phone or operating system. It’s hard to remember now but back then there were no app stores. So companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube had to work directly with operating system and device manufacturers to get their products into people’s hands,” describes Archibong.

This was tightly regulated with “signed agreements that prevented people's Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences,” according to Archibong, and had to be approved by Facebook to prevent any misuse.

“Contrary to claims by The New York Times, friends' information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends. We are not aware of any abuse by these companies.”

Archibong assures that this practice is now winding down due to the popularity of the Android and iOS apps, with Facebook ending 22 of the 60 partnerships already. “As always we're working closely with our partners to provide alternative ways for people to still use Facebook,” concluded Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships.

KitGuru Says: This isn’t Facebook’s first run-in with privacy concerns and it sure isn’t likely to be its last. While I can see the need for these alternative APIs given the time frame, why data-sucking partnerships would continue beyond the 2011 consent degree is beyond me. It looks like poor timing for Zuckerberg for this to come to light, who will now have to deflect a bunch more questions.

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