The big news that broke today is about Facebook and privacy or lack thereof. A long and detailed New York Times report explains how Facebook signed deals with up to 150 companies in tech, online retail, entertainment sites, automakers and media organizations. It allowed them to have access to a wide variety of Facebook data.
Some of this isn’t all that malicious and fits into integrating Facebook into these other apps, while other aspects of these partnerships may have crossed the line to give these other large companies access to sometimes very private data and messages, which makes it profitable. Amazon obtained users’ names and contact information through their friends, it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts, even though it said it had stopped that type of sharing years ago. Netflix & Spotify could read private messages and Bing’s search engine could see almost all Facebook’s users friend’s without consent.
For Spotify, Facebook says this was to allow users to send songs via Facebook messenger. A Spotify spokesperson says in there always vague way that they had been "unaware of the broad powers Facebook had granted them."
Often when giving permission on an app, you allow many of these same things, but with Facebook it isn’t always clear your permissions go this far with their partners and how they may intertwine. Many of these settlements began in 2010 and ran up until 2017, some even continuing now.
As we get ready to flip the page on 2018 and enter 2019, there are a few larger issues at hand here. Facebook has been besieged with privacy scandals since March when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica misused data from Facebook to help influence the 2016 presidential election, as well as over Brexit. More revelations have come out since then about its use of data by outside forces using the platform since the early 2010s for malicious intent, like in Myanmar, that have cast a dark shadow on the company that used to be popular among the public. Now people have started to realize the power it holds, bending political will to its wishes and also holding a duopoly with Google in digital advertising.
Facebook says that the partnerships were above board to help facilitate social sharing. The other companies didn’t have access to people’s data without permission, though NYT’s reporting might say otherwise and nothing violated Facebook's 2012 FTC settlement. It might be time for that settlement to be renegotiated. Facebook may need to be more clear about its privacy settings with third parties, putting up prompts each time a third party may be looking to access data, especially data from friends and make it very clear how everything is connected. It may hurt their bottom line when users see just what they are sharing, but the other doomsday options may be worse for Facebook. Avoiding that should be their concern, even as the stock price continues to rise through each scandal.
UPDATE: A Netflix spokesperson gave Magnetic the following statement, saying that like Spotify, they never accessed messages.
"Over the years we have tried various ways to make Netflix 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. 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."