Facebook Claims Innocence in Denying Charges of Special Deals for Data Access

Facebook has denied accusations that it made special deals with more than 150 companies to access millions of users' personal data without their permission, reports said.

The social media giant issued the denial after the New York Times reported that internal company documents showed that some of its corporate customers had eyes on users’ personal data more than Facebook had let on. According to the report, Facebook entered into quid pro quo data sharing deals with its larger customers that allowed them to view members’ friends list without their consent. While the partnerships gained Facebook more users that translated into more ad revenue, its partners took advantage of the add-on features offered to the platform’s burgeoning user base.

Facebook, however, said there's an innocent explanation. The deals with what Facebook called “integration partners” gave people entry to the platform’s accounts or features on devices made by Apple, Amazon, Blackberry and Yahoo, wrote Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook’s director of developer platforms and programs, in a blog post.

“People could have more social experiences – like seeing recommendations from their Facebook friends – on other popular apps and websites, like Netflix, the New York Times, Pandora and Spotify," he said. None of the deals were made under the table, Papamiltiadis said. "To be clear: none of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people’s permission..."

The NYT report also said Facebook gave Amazon, Dropbox, Netflix, Spotify and other platforms the ability to read users’ private messages and allowed Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends. However, Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships, writing in a separate blog post said the accusations are “not true...We worked closely with four partners to integrate messaging capabilities into their products so people could message their Facebook friends — but only if they chose to use Facebook Login.

“People could message their friends about what they were listening to on Spotify or watching on Netflix, share folders on Dropbox, or get receipts from money transfers through the Royal Bank of Canada app,” he said. Archibong said the “experiences” were “experimental” and had been shuttered for almost three years.

These latest charges raise fresh questions as to whether Facebook breached its 2011 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission. In that agreement, a chastened Facebook consented to obtain users’ approval before it altered its privacy policies. The FTC had charged Facebook with tricking customers into sharing more personal information than they realized.

According to the NYT’s report, Facebook said it had no evidence that its partners had used the data inappropriately. The company, however, admitted it had not sufficiently overseen some of its partnerships resulting in some companies accessing data after Facebook had closed the features three years ago. Some of the older deals reportedly dating to 2010 were still active this year.

These latest charges add to the pile of scandals that has Facebook reeling, inflamed by the Cambridge Analytica flap in which the company allowed the harvesting of the user data of 90 million people without their permission. Most recently, late last month a U.K. legislator charged Facebook with offering a select group of notable companies special access to private user data in exchange for at least $250,000 in advertising revenue.

Damian Collins, a member of the British Parliament, accused the social media giant of making so-called “white-listing agreements,” or pay-to-play deals, that it hid for years, according to a Washington Post account. Collins, who has attained thorn-in-the-side status for Facebook, dropped the hammer when he revealed 250 documents that showed the company had made backroom deals with Airbnb, Badoo, Lyft, Netflix, the Royal Bank of Canada and Tinder to give them heightened access to its crown jewels of user data in return for big ad deals.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.