Zuckerberg Plotting Global Data Grab

Mark Zuckerberg
He's becoming a James Bond Villain

Zuck’s back in the hotseat, folks.

Reports have emerged that Facebook struck data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 companies making smart-devices, including Apple, BlackBerry, Samsung, Amazon, and others.

This process began even before Facebook apps were ubiquitous on smart-phones, according to company officials. These deals allowed Facebook to expand its reach and allowed device manufacturers to offer customers Facebook messaging features, like buttons, and contact lists based on Facebook “friends” lists.

But these partnerships have also raised major privacy concerns, and in allowing device manufacturers access to this information, Facebook may have violated a 2011 decree by the Federal Trade Commission.

The main problem is that Facebook allowed the device manufacturers to access the data of their users friends without their explicit consent. They did so even after they announced they would stop sharing that kind of info with outside companies.

Tsk tsk, Mark Zuckerberg.

Reports have found that some device companies were still retrieving personal info from users friends even when the users believed they had barred any sharing.

Most of these partnerships, by the way, are still in effect today. Facebook claims they started dismantling them in April, but apparently you have to take what Facebook says with a grain of salt these days.

If you recall the Cambridge Analytica scandal, you may remember that Facebook claimed that the feature which Cambridge Analytica was using to mine Facebook data in 2014 had been disabled within a year afterwards.

What Facebook didn’t say was that cellphone and tablet manufacturers were exempted from that ban on the use of friend data without consent. Data sharing practices with the device companies have continued into the present day, even as Facebook has claimed that these practices have ceased.

Facebook has defended their choice to share user data with device manufacturers, saying that it’s all consistent with their privacy policies. They’ve also said the data sharing is government by contracts that strictly limit the use of the data, including any stored on partners’ servers.

Facebook spokespeople said they knew of no instances in which information shared with a device manufacturer had been misused. (That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened; experts say this data-sharing with device manufacturers could represent a major security vulnerability.)

Facebook execs, like Ime Archibong, a VP at the company, claim that their partnerships with device manufacturers work differently than their partnerships with other third-party developers, like those who create games and services for use with Facebook.

But research and investigation by several media outlets shows that device partners can grab users relationship status info, religion, political leaning, upcoming events, and other data. And the way partners request data and receive it does not meaningfully differ from the way other third parties, like app developers, access and request user data.

What’s more, Facebook’s device partners can access data about a user’s Facebook friends, even if the user in question has denied Facebook permission to share info with third parties. Facebook justifies this by claiming that device manufacturers are a special class of partner, and not truly third parties at all.

But that claim doesn’t hold water, and it’s time for Facebook to take accountability for lying to its users and allowing their data to be collected by third parties against their will.

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Robert Chamber
Robert Chambers is a self-described "policy wonk" and has been writing for online news publications for the last several years. He and his wife live in Alexandria, VA.