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Breaking: Over 60 Companies Had Direct Access to Facebook User Data

Agreements with device makers

A media outlet claims that Facebook entered into agreements with nothing less than sixty companies to share users’ data. Several of these agreements are still subsisting although some companies have started to back out since April.  Reportedly, some of the companies that made the agreement with Facebook include device makers such as Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft.

It was further stated by the media outlet that the data shared by the media giant includes data belonging to users’ friends which those other companies had access to without the consent of the concerned parties, and following Facebook’s claim that the information will ordinarily remain confidential. Facebook, however, released a statement where it denied sharing the data without seeking and obtaining permission.

Facebook had data sharing agreement with over 60 companies, including Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft

A report indicates that the issue of Facebook sharing data without consent has been in existence for the past six years. The head of Facebook’s privacy compliance at the time when the issue began, Sandy Parakilas, told a media outlet that it was treated as an internal privacy issue and it remains a shock to her that the practice has continued even years after it was first raised. She further added that it appeared to be a contradiction to the company’s testimony before the Congress that it had disabled friends’ permission.

A report stated that quite a number of device makers were given access to personal data belonging to users’ friends including their religious beliefs, political inclinations relationship status and even events they were participating in. The report further indicated that the data belonging to users’ friends remained accessible even when the option of data sharing had been disabled.

Facebook’s Insiders account 

It will be recalled that on the 10th of April, Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO testified before a U.S. Senate joint committee on issues pertaining to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. His testimony at the Senate meeting came a week after the news got out that a high possibility existed that Cambridge Analytica gained access and misused the data of about  87 million Facebook users and a large percentage of the users of the social media application may have had their personal data exposed to the wrong set of people.

Sources claim that about four years ago, Facebook introduced a policy which purportedly restricted the access to personal data of users’ friends such as their names, religious inclinations and birthdays which was previously granted to application. However, a report released by a media outlet, The New York Times, indicates that some primary device makers still continued to have access to the data even after the introduction of the restrictive policy.

This report was subsequently countered by a blog post where Ime Archibong, the company’s Vice President in charge of its product partnerships, affirmed the existence of the claimed agreements with companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, Amazon, HTC, and Blackberry, among others. He, however, stated that the import of the agreements was simply to make it a possibility for users to have access to the social media app before there was an introduction of advanced operating systems and applications stores.

Archibong stated that agreements signed expressly barred partners from utilizing the users’ information for anything other than a recreation of experiences similar to what they would get on the social media app.  He further explained that as opposed to media outlet’s report, users’ friends’ data only became accessible if friends shared the information with others and the company has no idea that the companies were abusing the information.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg testifying before a U.S. Senate Joint Committee

In the blog post, Archibong also opined that the rapid spread of iOS and Android operating system translated to lesser users placing reliance on the “Facebook experience” which companies were initially allowed to provide. He gave this as the reason why the partnerships previously entered into are being severed.

Privacy issues may persist

Sources claim that a good number of security experts and software engineers previously in the employment of Facebook have expressed their surprise at the possibility of overriding the restrictions imposed on data sharing. According to Ashkan Soltani, a onetime chief technologist at the company, it was just like having locks put on doors for security reasons and later discovering that the locksmith handed spare keys to his friends so they could gain access to your property without seeking your permission.

Although Facebook is reportedly ending these agreements, a privacy researcher studying the security of mobile applications, Serge Egelman, posits that users are still exposed to grave security and privacy issues. According to the privacy researcher, even though users may tend to trust Facebook and device manufacturers, they are still faced with a major privacy problem when additional data is collected on their devices and particularly when the data remain accessible by other applications on the devices.

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