Over the weekend, Facebook revealed it had partnerships with 52 organizations with which it shared user data, possibly without users’ consent.
Facebook disclosed the partnerships in a 700-page manifesto to Congress’s House Energy and Commerce Committee. Some of the partnerships had already been uncovered, with the revelation last month of agreements with Apple, Amazon, Samsung and other device manufacturers. In those cases, Facebook released a counterstatement saying releasing data to hardware makers at the time was the only way mobile users could have the full Facebook experience, as the app itself didn’t exist.
But some of the other companies on the list are a little more difficult to explain. For example, according to Politico, Huawei and Alibaba are on the list. Facebook said it had ended 38 of the 52 partnerships, but does not specify whether it ended them before or after 2015, when it implemented new rules that were supposedly designed to prevent third parties from having too much access to user data. That leaves 14 companies with which it’s still collaborating.
The question is, why doesn’t this sound quite as bad as the Cambridge Analytica scandal? It could be that, in these cases, most of the companies with which Facebook worked sound more “safe” than some sketchy company buying Facebook quiz data. We have some measure of implicit trust in companies like Mozilla, or Opera, or even Vodafone or Nokia — that’s why I doubt the reaction to these revelations will be as strong as that of Cambridge Analytica.
But the same question arises over this data sharing that did over Cambridge Analytica and the original case of the device makers: does this violate the 2011 consent decree handed down by the FTC? In that judgment, the FTC ruled Facebook must “obtain consumers’ affirmative express consent before enacting changes that override their privacy preferences.”
The company also specified it gave certain apps that had access to user data in the pre-2015 days a six-month leeway period. That means the apps that had access to your data did so for six months longer than the company had reported was the cut-off point. These apps apparently include UPS, Audi, and AOL.
Either way, it seems Facebook allowed more unfettered access to your data than it has heretofore admitted. The FTC, which is investigating Facebook, is going to have a lot of data to go through. You can read the 700 page document here if you need a cure for insomnia.