Facebook allowed businesses access to users’ private messages: report
Published Wednesday, December 19, 2018 10:59AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 19, 2018 12:58PM EST
Facebook is facing another backlash over privacy concerns after a report claiming the company provided more than 150 businesses, including a Canadian bank, with deep access to personal data, without users’ consent.
The social media giant is accused of giving more extensive access to users’ personal information than it previously revealed, letting businesses read private messages or see the names of friends without permission, according to a New York Times report.
Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all 2.2. billion Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave streaming services Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.
The newspaper said it obtained more than 270 pages of Facebook documents and interviewed more than 60 people, including many former Facebook employees.
The deals described in the documents benefited huge tech businesses mostly, including online retailers and entertainment sites, but also automakers and media organizations.
Their applications sought the data of hundreds of millions of people a month, the records show.
The deals, the oldest of which date to 2010, were all active in 2017, with some still in effect this year.
Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada were able to read, write and delete Facebook users' private messages and to see everyone on a message thread, it claims.
RBC denied it had the ability to see users’ messages.
“RBC’s use of the Facebook platform was limited to the development of a service that enabled clients to facilitate payment transactions to their Facebook friends, which was launched in December 2013,” an RBC spokesman said.
“As part of our security and fraud protocols, we needed to uniquely identify the recipient of funds and payments to securely process the transaction and deliver the notification. We decommissioned the service in 2015 and our limited access, which was used strictly to enable our clients’ payments, ended at that time.”
Spotify could look at messages of more than 70 million users a month and still lets users share music through Facebook Messenger while Netflix and RBC turned off features that incorporated message access.
“Spotify cannot read users’ private Facebook inbox messages across any of our current integrations,” it said in a statement.
“Previously, when users shared music from Spotify, they could add on text that was visible to Spotify. This has since been discontinued. We have no evidence that Spotify ever accessed users’ private Facebook messages.”
Netflix Canada said it has tried various ways to make its platform more social.
“One example of this was a feature we launched in 2014 that enabled members to recommend TV shows and movies to their Facebook friends via Messenger or Netflix,” the company said in a statement.
“It was never that popular so we shut the feature down in 2015. At no time did we access people’s private messages on Facebook, or ask for the ability to do so."
Facebook responded to the report in a blog post, which said the partnerships did allow features like "messaging integrations" but nearly all have been shut down over the past few months, except for deals with Apple and Amazon.
None of the deals gave outside companies access to data without user consent, it said.