Speed Reads

Facebook under fire

Facebook gave 60 device makers, including Apple and Samsung, secret access to the data of users and friends

Facebook got in hot water this spring over its evidently cavalier attitude toward the private data of its users, after it emerged that Cambridge Analytica accessed and weaponized the data of up to 87 million users through an online quiz taken by only about 300,000 people. But Facebook also had undisclosed arrangements with at least 60 device makers that gave Samsung, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, BlackBerry, and other companies access to large amounts of data on users and their friends, The New York Times reports.

Facebook argued that these agreements, which it began signing in 2007 and started winding down in April, did not violate its terms of service or the 2011 consent decree it reached with the Federal Trade Commission because it considers the makers of hardware like smartphones and tablets "service providers" and an extension of Facebook, not third parties. The 2011 consent decree forbade Facebook from sharing the data of a user's friends without their explicit consent. The agreements with device makers allowed such activity, the Times says; according to its own research, a reporter who logged into a 2013 BlackBerry found the device had access to more than 50 types of information about him and his friends.

Former Facebook employees told the Times they were surprised Facebook allowed this to continue for so long. Sandy Parakilas said that before he left the company in 2012, "this was flagged internally as a privacy issue," and "it is shocking that this practice may still continue six years later." Former FTC chief technologist Ashkan Soltani compared the agreements to "having door locks installed, only to find out that the locksmith also gave keys to all of his friends so they can come in and rifle through your stuff without having to ask you for permission." You can read more about the agreements and the response from device makers at The New York Times.