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Facebook Claims Users Consented to Shared Private Messages

Revelations that the social media giant shared users’ private correspondence with other companies, like Netflix and Spotify, has the company embroiled in yet another scandal and making claims that the users knew what they were in for.

by Jessica Schladebeck and Leonard Greene, New York Daily News / December 20, 2018
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the Senate judiciary and commerce committees on Capitol Hill on April 10, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS) TNS

(TNS) — It’s beginning to look a lot like collusion.

Outraged social media subscribers want to stuff Mark Zuckerburg’s stocking with large lumps of Internet coal after learning the Facebook founder’s company shared user data with outfits like Netflix and Spotify and allowed the media giants access to personal private messages.

Facebook just can’t get off the Internet naughty list, and a bombshell report that the social media Scrooge opened the corporate door for other companies to millions of people’s private memos isn’t helping.

According to the New York Times, Facebook shared user data with a legion of other technology companies without the consent of many of its subscribers.

The company also maintained agreements to trade data with Huawei and Yandex, companies whose connections to the Chinese and Russian governments have raised national security concerns, the report said.

What followed was a polar vortex of vexation from politicians to picture-posting puppy dog owners whose idea of privacy was torn to shreds quicker than the wrapping paper on a new Christmas toy.

“Opening someone else’s mail is a federal crime,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) “Why is @Facebook allowed to let Netflix and Spotify open your private messages? Mark Zuckerberg might think of this as just `data,’ but this is people’s private lives. We need a law to protect Americans’ sensitive information.”

Democratic lawmakers were already skeptical of the company's assurances that it is protecting users' privacy after Zuckerburg gave congressional testimony that was every bit as believable as the Grinch’s promises to little Cindy Loo Hoo.

Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, spent two days over the spring testifying to Congress that his company does not sell users' data. He strongly asserted that Facebook gives users control over how their data is used, and pledged that the company would make privacy settings easier to understand.

Some senators were not impressed.

"Mark Zuckerberg had a lot of chutzpah telling Congress that Americans could control their data, when seemingly every other week Facebook faces a new privacy scandal for abusing our personal information," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

"When companies repeatedly lie to Congress and the American people about what they do with our messages, location, likes and everything else, Congress has a duty to do something about it.”

A Facebook executive disputed the newspaper report about a massive privacy breach in a statement that managed to use the words “helping” and “people” in the same sentence.

“Today, we’re facing questions about whether Facebook gave large tech companies access to people’s information and, if so, why we did this,” Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook's director of developer platforms and programs, said in a statement.

“To put it simply, this work was about helping people do two things. First, people could access their Facebook accounts or specific Facebook features on devices and platforms built by other companies like Apple, Amazon, Blackberry and Yahoo. These are known as integration partners. Second, people could have more social experiences – like seeing recommendations from their Facebook friends – on other popular apps and websites, like Netflix, The New York Times, Pandora and Spotify.”

Papamiltiadis went on to say that that no partnerships or features included in the data sharing arrangements were done without user permission.

“Did partners get access to messages? Yes. But people had to explicitly sign in to Facebook first to use a partner’s messaging feature,” Papamiltiadis said.

“Take Spotify for example. After signing in to your Facebook account on Spotify’s desktop app, you could then send and receive messages without ever leaving the app. Our API (application program interface) provided partners with access to the person’s messages in order to power this type of feature.”

Spotify in a statement Wednesday said it had “no evidence” the music-streaming service ever accessed user’s private Facebook messages.

“Spotify’s integration with Facebook has always been about sharing and discovering music and podcasts. Spotify cannot read users’ private Facebook inbox messages across any of our current integrations,” according to the statement.

“Previously, when users shared music from Spotify, they could add on text that was visible to Spotify. This has since been discontinued.”

Netflix denied having access to users’ information while Amazon said it only uses “information in accordance with our privacy policy.”

The Times report on Tuesday additionally revealed Microsoft's Bing search engine had the ability to view the names of Facebook users’ friends, and allowed Amazon to obtain peoples’ names and contact information. Citing internal documents, the report said Facebook's data sharing arrangements benefited more than 150 companies.

“To be clear: none of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people’s permission, nor did they violate our 2012 settlement with the FTC,” Papamiltiadis said.

But subscribers were not swayed.

“We need class action lawsuits to stop this because all these big corporations lie,” tweeted a user named Tom Sprague. “We need subpoenas to get to the bottom of this.”

The hashtag #DeleteFacebook was revived for much of the day Tuesday, an idea endorsed by Twitter subscriber, Anne Geurts, who posted a link to an article about how to delete Facebook in three easy steps.

“Seriously,’ she tweeted. “If your FSBook peeps really care, they’ll ask for other ways to connect with you. #DeleteFacebook NOW!”

The worldwide chorus included one social media user who urged his followers to delete Facebook immediately.

“I did last year and it's been great,” the user tweeted. “I should probably stop being a hypocrite and delete Instagram too. But I'm lazy.”

Twitter user Anthony Balderrama seemed more surprised than outraged.

“You mean to tell me Facebook let Spotify read my private messages,” he wrote, “and they STILL couldn't make better playlist suggestions for me?”

©2018 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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