LOS ANGELES (CN) – People who use Facebook on their smartphones have more reason to be concerned about data privacy following a report that the social media giant struck deals allowing at least 60 device makers to access users’ personal information.
Device manufacturers – including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Blackberry and Samsung – could see not only private users’ data but also information from the accounts of users’ friends and friends-of-friends, according to a New York Times report published Sunday.
Some device makers had access to users’ data even when users had tight data-sharing restrictions on their account, according to the report.
In a case highlighted in the story, a Times reporter used software on his 2013 BlackBerry smartphone to obtain data on over 550 of his Facebook friends along with “identifying information” of over 300,000 other friends-of-friends on the app.
Some of the identifying information included relationship statuses, birthdays, work history, recent activity and religious and political leanings.
Facebook came under fire earlier this year after Cambridge Analytica – a British firm with ties to President Donald Trump and other Republicans – accessed and manipulated private data of millions of its users ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
The scandal forced Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress – and later before the European Parliament – on how the firm was able to access the private information of at least 87 million users.
At the time, Zuckerberg apologized to lawmakers and promised that all user “owned” and controlled their data.
“It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” he told lawmakers. “Every piece of content that you share on Facebook you own. You have complete control over who sees it and how you share it.”
In a blog post late Sunday, the social media giant’s vice president of product partnerships Ime Archibong pushed back on the Times’ report, saying the company disagreed with the assessment of its data-sharing agreements.
“All these partnerships were built on a common interest – the desire for people to be able to use Facebook whatever their device or operating system,” she said.
The technology in question, known as application programming interfaces, or APIs, was launched 10 years ago – in a time before app stores – to help device makers build Facebook apps for their phones and other devices.
“In the early days of mobile, the demand for Facebook outpaced our ability to build versions of the product that worked on every phone or operating system,” she said.
Facebook’s APIs – which the company says were under tight control – allowed companies to develop apps that paired well across all technology and devices before later advancements streamlined the process, Archibong said.
“Contrary to claims by The New York Times, friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends,” Archibong added. “We are not aware of any abuse by these companies.”
Facebook said it started to end the partnerships with device makers in April.
Archibong also said the partnerships should not be compared to the agreements that led to the data mining by Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook ended its partnership with the British firm and the company has since been dissolved.
Facebook is already under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission over its handling of user data in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In a 2011 agreement with the FTC, Facebook said it would not override users’ privacy settings without first getting their consent.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said on Twitter Monday that it ‘sure looks like Zuckerberg lied to Congress” about whether Facebook users can control who sees their data.
“This needs to be investigated and the people responsible need to be held accountable,” Cicilline said.
In a statement Monday, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said the ongoing investigation into the reported misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica will cover “data-sharing” partnerships arranged by the company.
“Consumers have the right to know how their personal information is being used,” Underwood said. “The companies we trust with our information have a critical responsibility to protect it.”
Zuckerberg told Congress in April that “it is time to ask whether Facebook may have moved too fast and broken too many things.”