Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook’s Corporate Partnerships Allowed Unregulated Private Data Sharing Without Explicit Consent

Gabriel J.X. Dance, Michael LaForgia and Nicholas Confessore, in an astonishing investigation for the New York Times:

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

[…]

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

Shira Ovide:

It was only nine months ago that Facebook had a massive scandal over how its partners harnessed user data, and here we are again.

Casey Johnston:

Facebook can’t even get its story straight about data that it freely gave to a Russian search engine […] that the Russian government, and in particular the FSB (formerly KGB) routinely raids and fucks with constantly.

Kashmir Hill, whose own investigations for Gizmodo of — among other things — Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature have helped open the books on what the company does with users’ data unbeknownst to them:

In the summer of 2017, I asked Facebook if it used signals from “third parties such as data brokers” for friend recommendations. Kicking myself for not recognizing the evasion in their answer.

Facebook said that they don’t get information for People You May Know from data brokers; they didn’t say anything about acquiring it directly.

Zeynep Tufekci:

So, as many suspected, Facebook combined data from wherever it could in order to suggest “people you may know” — also outing psychiatrist’s patients to one another etc. What this reporting shows is that Facebook exchanged people’s *data* (without informing them) to get that data.

Richard Tofel:

Only in, by my count, the 36th graf of this otherwise excellent story does the NYT reveal that it entered into one of these agreements. Seems like that might have been worth mentioning earlier.

I am still struggling to understand how any executive at Facebook — or, indeed, many of the companies with which they had partnerships — could set aside the obvious ethical concerns about sharing users’ personal data, including their private messages without clearly asking them first. Major corporation behaves in unconscionable manner is, sadly, nowhere near as rare a story as it ought to be, but I am surprised by just how morally bankrupt Facebook is as an organization.

Moreover, the fact that there are virtually no laws in the United States to restrict such an egregious exploitation of users indicates a de factor authorization of the selling-out of Americans on an unprecedented scale.