Facebook Shared Private Data to Advance Its Own Interests

According to its 2017 internal records, Facebook shared users’ personal data with the world’s biggest tech firms, allowing them to circumvent privacy rules. By doing so, Facebook boosted its advertising revenue, partner companies enhanced their products with more features, and Facebook users were able to connect across websites and devices. For example, Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see names of all its 2.2 billion global users without consent, and let Netflix and Spotify read users’ private messages.

The New York Times, which obtained hundreds of the relevant Facebook documents, reports that, even as chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told legislators in April that people “have complete control” over what they share on Facebook, “the documents, as well as interviews with about 50 former employees of Facebook and its corporate partners, reveal that Facebook allowed certain companies access to data despite those protections.”

These findings “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.”

NYT found deals with more than 150 companies described in the documents; most were tech businesses “including online retailers and entertainment sites, but also automakers and media organizations,” whose “applications sought the data of hundreds of millions of people a month.” The earliest date to 2010 and all continued to be active in 2017, with some “still in effect this year.”

Facebook director of privacy and public policy Steve Satterfield, “said none of the partnerships violated users’ privacy or the FTC agreement,” but early Facebook investor Roger McNamee opined that it isn’t legitimate “to enter into data-sharing partnerships where there is not prior informed consent from the user.”

The Interactive Advertising Bureau said U.S. companies “are expected to spend close to $20 billion by the end of 2018 to acquire and process consumer data.” Facebook never sold data, but instead gave “other companies access to parts of the social network in ways that advanced its own interests.”

Gizmodo reports that turning off Facebook location tracking doesn’t stop it. One user turned off location history in the Facebook app, never checks-in to places, doesn’t list her current city on her profile and told her iPhone that she never wants the app to get her location — and still sees location-based ads on Facebook. The user, USC assistant professor Aleksandra Korolova, “thought Facebook must be getting her location information from the IP addresses she used to log in from, which Facebook says it collects for security purposes.”

Facebook confirmed her suspicions. “There is no way for people to opt out of using location for ads entirely,” said a Facebook spokesperson. The remedy, says Gizmodo, is to “stop using the Facebook app on your phone (where IP addresses tend to be more precisely mapped) or use a VPN when you log into Facebook” — or quit Facebook altogether.

Related:
Why Should Anyone Believe Facebook Anymore?, Wired, 12/19/18
How to Delete Facebook, The New York Times, 12/19/18
AI Has Started Cleaning Up Facebook, But Can It Finish?, Wired, 12/18/18