By Aaron Kesel
Facebook states that even after the company locked down its Groups’ application programming interface (API) last year, some app developers retained improper access to information about the site’s millions of members, according to a Facebook blog post.
Facebook notes that roughly 100 developers might have accessed user information since Facebook changed its rules in April of 2018, and at least 11 of those devs accessed member data in the last 60 days. Facebook now says it has cut all partners off from that data.
Facebook Group administrators are able to use third-party tools to manage their groups, giving apps information about its users’ activity. However, since the changes last year, developers shouldn’t be able to see individual members’ names, profile pictures, or unspecified other profile data.
Facebook suspended tens of thousands of app developers in September amid a privacy investigation into how developers use the data, which the company started after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, The Guardian reported.
This comes after a series of privacy scandals, such as Cambridge Analytica, that may have put the personal information of its users at risk, as well as numerous times the company has been caught spying on its users or slipping up with its overall security.
The FTC’s probe of Facebook began in March of last year in response to big social’s entanglement with Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy firm connected to a U.S. subsidiary (SHELL COMPANY) of a UK defense contractor SCL Group, Strategic Communication Laboratories, that improperly accessed data on 87 million of the social site’s users to use for campaign targeting for U.S. President Donald Trump through his former advisor Steve Bannon. According to reports, Facebook knew for an entire three years that Cambridge Analytica was abusing and misusing user data but did absolutely nothing.
Facebook also got entangled in a bug in December of last year that gave app developers access to private user photos including those shared on Marketplace or Facebook Stories and unposted pictures — an absolute privacy nightmare. The Facebook blog states, “that some third-party apps may have had access to a broader set of photos than usual for 12 days between September 13 to September 25, 2018.” However, who’s to say the bug wasn’t preexisting for quite some time and this is just to save face for the company?
Facebook also announced another privacy issue last year: A software bug “unblocked” some people who had previously been blocked by another user, meaning the unblocked user could suddenly see some posts from the person who blocked them or message them on the Messenger app. The bug affected 800,000 users and was live for about a week at the end of May and early June according to the social company.
There is also the issue of 14 million Facebook users who thought they were posting only to their friends or smaller groups when they actually had been posting that content publicly due to their privacy settings being changed for days, according to Wired.
The New York Times reported a bombshell in December of last year detailing the secret relationship that Facebook had with the tech companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify, and Yahoo just to name a few. The Times report was backed by 50 former employees of the company and its partners, as well as documents for the deals.
The official corporate partnerships with Facebook totaled more than 150 companies, which The Times notes that the oldest deal dates back to 2010, one year prior to Facebook’s brokered deal with the FTC for its privacy practices. One has to wonder if the social giant disclosed these type of deals to the FTC one year later when it was under scrutiny — more than likely, probably not.
“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 Times wrote.
“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,” The Times added.
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The New York Times goes on to detail the level of access that a few companies were given to users’ profiles; and it’s quite shocking, including the ability to read and delete messages, as the Huffington Post highlighted.
Again, from The New York Times:
“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.”
Besides the 150 tech companies, Facebook gave 60 device makers themselves — including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft, and Samsung — special access to Facebook data, according to another report by The Times. This special access allowed a reporter using a BlackBerry device (old model) to view private details of Facebook users despite their privacy settings, a shocking contention.
To make it clear, Facebook never asked for every specific user’s consent to send over their personal data to these other companies. Facebook claims that it didn’t need user consent since it considered these companies “service providers,” and “integration partners” which were acting in the interests of the social network.
As part of the 20-year agreement both parties reached, Facebook now faces new guidelines for how the company will handle privacy leaks.
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“The new framework under our agreement with the FTC means more accountability and transparency into how we build and maintain products,” Facebook’s director of platform partnerships, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, wrote in a Facebook post.
“As we work through this process we expect to find examples like the Groups API of where we can improve; rest assured we are committed to this work and supporting the people on our platform.”
Meanwhile in the UK, Facebook just paid an even more measly fine of £500,000 ($643,000) for failing to address the Cambridge Analytica scandal and putting users’ data at “serious risk.” After appealing last year’s ruling that would have seen Facebook hand over half a million in pounds, the company dropped the appeal but without admitting liability for the incident, Tech Crunch reported.
A total of 250 pages of emails and documents released by British Parliament as a part of its own investigation show conversations between Facebook and an app developer called Six4Three that developed Pikinis, which allowed people to find Facebook users’ bathing suit photos. The emails and documents were ordered sealed by a California court until the UK lawmakers got a hold of them.
It’s highly likely that during the discovery phase of the lawsuit emails and documents unrelated to Pikinis were scooped up as well. The emails purported to show the social giant offering major advertisers special access to user data — deals many people view as a contradiction of Facebook’s promise not to sell user data according to Wired. Facebook, however, has stated the emails lack context and maintains that it never sold its user data, despite past scandals showing that they did.
Facebook is also facing pressure from the Attorney General of California Xavier Becerra who alleges that Facebook failed to comply with subpoenas related to third-party access to user data in a new lawsuit filed, NY Times reported. Becerra is asking for emails from Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. That 44-page lawsuit called Facebook’s responses to Cambridge Analytica subpoenas to be “patently deficient.” As reported by CNBC:
“This is one of those times,” Becerra said. “If Facebook had complied with our legitimate investigative requests, we would not be making these announcements today, but our work must move forward.”
Six4Three’s case against Facebook had an update this week as well as California courts released 7,000 pages of Facebook company emails and executive documents as more and more investigations into possible antitrust violations by regulators around the world are ongoing.
Six4Three alleges that Facebook’s data policies were anti-competitive and that the company misrepresented those policies to developers and the public alike.
To pile on even more troubles for the social media giant, Facebook also faced an internal leak of documents this week which saw those 7,000 internal communications publicized, NBC news reported.
The documents ultimately show Facebook wanted to squeeze more advertising dollars out of its partners, or block access to anyone whom they saw as competitors. According to documents obtained by Reuters, Facebook advertisers were separated into “three buckets: existing competitors, possible future competitors, or developers that we have alignment with on business models.” As you can imagine, those who fell into their third “bucket” were treated to more of your personal data.
As NBC News writes, “Facebook gave Amazon special access to user data because it was spending money on Facebook advertising. In another case the messaging app MessageMe was cut off from access to data because it had grown too popular and could compete with Facebook.”
“All the while, Facebook planned to publicly frame these moves as a way to protect user privacy,” NBC News says, hence the nickname “Switcharoo Plan.”
Just last week, the Filter Bubble Transparency Act was introduced in the Senate, which if passed would mandate internet services to notify their users when they are seeing personalized ads. The FBTA also aims to let anyone opt out of those echo chambers.
In this writer’s opinion, there is only one way to go from here for Facebook and its stocks — and that’s plunging down to the concrete pavement.
It seems like Internet users for some reason forget about these massive scandals and just continue using Facebook. I would say it’s high time to “#DeleteFacebook” and join a number of growing alternative social media networks like SoMee.Social, Gab.ai, Minds.com, Steemit.com, where it’s even possible for you the reader to get paid for your comments and contributions.
Even a pre-existing option, Twitter, is better than Facebook. Jack Dorsey’s platform may have over-hypersensitive admins, but at least there hasn’t been as many privacy violations as Facebook. Although there have been some, it’s not nearly as much. On the bright side, Dorsey doesn’t seem to have a patent to spy on your current location, to keep track of your location data and predict where you are going next — Facebook does.
Let us move forward into the future to networks that don’t run in tandem with the U.S. government and other governments, and are not fueled by greed and selling harvested user data. But instead, completely decentralized and people-powered, incentive-based networks for sharing data you choose to share, where creators are rewarded rather than snubbed despite bringing value to these social platforms.
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