Bombshell report shows Facebook let companies like Spotify and Netflix read private messages

Mark ZuckerbergPhoto by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • A bombshell report from The New York Times revealed that Facebook shared user data with major companies including Spotify, Netflix, Microsoft, Yahoo, and more.
  • The Times reviewed more than 200 pages of documents generated in 2017 by Facebook's tool used to track partnerships.
  • One of the major revelations in the report was that some partners, such as Spotify, Netflix, and the Royal Bank of Canada, were allegedly able to access users' private messages - including the ability to read, compose, or delete messages, according to The Times.

A bombshell report from The New York Times revealed that Facebook shared user data with major companies including Spotify, Netflix, Microsoft, Yahoo, and more that it categorized as data partners, which were not subject to the usual privacy controls.

The Times reviewed more than 200 pages of documents generated in 2017 by Facebook's automated partnership tracker. Facebook does not sell user data, but it entered into data-sharing partnerships with over 150 companies.

"The deals, the oldest of which date to 2010, were all active in 2017," The Times reported. "Some were still in effect this year."

One of the major revelations in the report was that some partners, such as Spotify, Netflix, and the Royal Bank of Canada, were allegedly able to access users' private messages - including the ability to read, compose, or delete messages, according to The Times.

In statements to The Times, Spotify and Netflix said they were unaware they had been granted that access. Business Insider contacted both Spotify and Netflix for clarity regarding this partnership and has not heard back.

The RBC "disputed that the bank had any such access," The Times wrote. Business Insider also reached out to the bank for comment.

Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada closed down their respective features that used private messaging, they told The Times.

These companies are not the only ones with broad access to user data. Amazon, Microsoft's Bing search engine and Yahoo were also data partners. Amazon, for example, could see users' names and contact information through their friends.

The partnerships allowed Facebook to grow, and other companies - from tech, to retail, to entertainment - could access certain data. And though the privacy policy since 2010 has disclosed shared partnerships, who its sharing with and what it is sharing are not explicitly outlined.

Facebook argues that its partners abide by their privacy settings, and that they see the partners as an extension of Facebook - thus, the company says it is not violating a 2011 Federal Trade Commission consent decree saying that it cannot share data without permission.

"Facebook's partners don't get to ignore people's privacy settings, and it's wrong to suggest that they do," Steve Satterfield, Facebook's director of privacy and public policy, said in a statement emailed to Business Insider. "Over the years, we've partnered with other companies so people can use Facebook on devices and platforms that we don't support ourselves. Unlike a game, streaming music service, or other third-party app, which offer experiences that are independent of Facebook, these partners can only offer specific Facebook features and are unable to use information for independent purposes."

"We know we've got work to do to regain people's trust," Satterfield continued. "Protecting people's information requires stronger teams, better technology, and clearer policies, and that's where we've been focused for most of 2018. Partnerships are one area of focus and, as we've said, we're winding down the integration partnerships that were built to help people access Facebook."

Facebook has encountered one scandal after another. Earlier this year, it was revealed that 87 million users' data was accessed by the UK data firm Cambridge Analytica, without proper user consent.

Last week, it was reported that a bug may have exposed millions of Facebook users' private photos to third party apps. Facebook CEO and chairman Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress earlier this year over privacy issues and how the platform may have impacted the 2016 presidential election.

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