Facebook allowed Netflix, Spotify to access private user messages

Muriel Colon
December 20, 2018

A Facebook spokesperson said the company had found "no evidence of abuse by its partners", but there's no evidence they were actually looking.

According to a scorching report in the New York Times, the social network gave business partners plenty of access to the data of its billions of users.

Facebook gave companies such as Apple, Amazon and Yahoo extensive access to users' personal data, effectively exempting them from the company's usual privacy rules, according to a New York Times report. Facebook acknowledged that it did not consider any of those three companies to be service providers. For their part, companies like Netflix, Apple and Spotify claim that they were ignorant to the full scale of their access and unaware of the breach in privacy.

Details have come to light about the deals Facebook struck with the likes of Microsoft, Spotify, Netflix, Apple and Amazon.

The internal documents obtained by the Times have not been made public.

He added that Facebook's partners "don't get to ignore people's privacy settings", but concluded that the company has "got work to do to regain people's trust" which is putting it mildly.

Microsoft said it took steps to ensure that Facebook data wasn't used to create profiles for advertising or personalization purposes. That access was granted to allow the companies to build their own unique implementations of a private message feature, allowing users to, for instance, send a Facebook message linking to a song. This has since been discontinued. For you to be able to read messages back, we needed Spotify to have "read access".

As traditional news outlets like The Times continue transitioning into digital media companies, this report raises alarming questions about their future relationship with tech giants like Facebook.

In response, Netflix has released a statement saying: "Over the years we have tried various ways to make Netflix more social". We shut down instant personalisation, which powered Bing's features, in 2014 and we wound down our partnerships with device and platform companies months ago, following an announcement in April. In a Tweet, Netflix said that, "Netflix never asked for, or accessed, anyone's private messages".

While the Tuesday bombshell focused on how the information from Facebook was mainly shared with major tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Spotify, The Times was one of nine media organizations that also obtained special access to things like a users' friends lists.

As journalist Kashmir Hill at Gizmodo pointed out, that could explain why, for example, some users' book reviews would be suspiciously blocked without explanation.

The social network said it shut down almost all of these partnerships over the past several months, except those with Apple and Amazon, which people continue to find useful and which are covered by active contracts.

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".

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