After a New York Times report claimed that Facebook allowed about 60 device makers, including Apple and Samsung, to access personal information of users and their friends, the social network has defended the pacts saying that these partnerships do not raise privacy concerns.
Even before Facebook apps were widely available on smartphones, Facebook had data-sharing partnerships with the device makers, the report said citing company officials, adding that most of the deals remain in effect.
Facebook said that the partners signed agreements that prevented people’s information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences.
“Partners could not integrate the user’s Facebook features with their devices without the user’s permission,” Ime Archibong, Facebook’s Vice President of Product Partnerships, said in a statement on Sunday.
Archibong said that in the early days of mobile, the demand for Facebook outpaced the company’s ability to build versions of the product that worked on every phone or operating system.
“It’s hard to remember now but back then there were no app stores. So companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube had to work directly with operating system and device manufacturers to get their products into people’s hands,” Archibong said.
“This took a lot of time – and Facebook was not able to get to everyone. To bridge this gap, we built a set of device-integrated APIs that allowed companies to recreate Facebook-like experiences for their individual devices or operating systems,” Archibong added.
Facebook launched the device-integrated APIs about a decade ago and said that 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.
“Given that these APIs enabled other companies to recreate the Facebook experience, we controlled them tightly from the get-go,” Archibong said.
The New York Times report claimed that the deals raise concerns about the company’s privacy protections and compliance with a 2011 consent decree with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Facebook, which is already under scrutiny for misuse of millions of its users’ data after the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal became public, reportedly allowed the device companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders.
Some device-makers could retrieve personal information even from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing, The New York Times found.
Facebook’s leaders said that the kind of access exploited by the political consulting firm in 2014 was cut off by the next year as it prohibited developers from collecting information from users’ friends.
But the company officials did not disclose that such restrictions were not applicable to makers of cellphones, tablets and other hardware, the report said.
Facebook responded by saying that 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.
“We are not aware of any abuse by these companies,” Archibong said, adding that the device partnerships very different from the public APIs used by third-party developers who used the Facebook information people shared with them to build completely new experiences.
Facebook said that it had already ended 22 of the device partnerships.
“Now that iOS and Android are so popular, fewer people rely on these APIs to create bespoke Facebook experiences. It’s why we announced in April that we’re winding down access to them. We’ve already ended 22 of these partnerships,” Archibong said.