Facebook is dealing even more data than we previously thought. The social network has exchanged data with over 150 companies, at least in part without users' knowledge. Facebook even searched through users' messages and passed them on to other companies. It seems, however, that the data wasn't sold, and instead was merely passed on or exchanged via long-term agreements with other companies.
Facebook has made the data of its users available to numerous companies, including many big names in the tech industry. Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Yahoo, Sony, Apple and many more got access to the names and email addresses of as many as 2.2 billion Facebook users. The number might not be that high, but it probably amounta to many hundreds of millions of profiles. This finding is the result of extensive research at the New York Times.
But it's not just names and emails that were exchanged. Facebook allowed the Microsoft search engine Bing, which in the USA plays a minor role alongside Google, to search users' complete list of friends including names. Netflix and Spotify were allegedly even allowed to read Facebook users' private messages.
Facebook gave away user data for free
And what did Facebook demand for all that data? Apparently they didn't ask for money, according to the New York Times report. Instead, the companies just want to help each other become even larger. "Everyone should benefit from the exchange," the New York Times report stated. "Pushing for explosive growth, Facebook got more users, lifting its advertising revenue. Partner companies acquired features to make their products more attractive."
According to the report, the agreements helped Facebook to improve its own "people you might know" feature, which suggests potential Facebook friends to users. For example, data from contact lists on Amazon, Yahoo and Huawei are said to have flowed in. That means the data was streaming in both directions.
Facebook has left its own users in the dark about these schemes. According to Facebook privacy head Steve Satterfield, the partner companies have been seen as extensions of their own company. From this perspective, Facebook has acted as a service provider that helps users interact with their Facebook friends.
Facebook still doesn't exactly know what the partners did with the data. Contracts would oblige partner companies to comply with Facebook's guidelines, says Satterfield. A Facebook spokeswoman also told the newspaper that Facebook found no evidence of data abuse on the part of their partners. The agreements were all made in 2010 and all the partnerships were still active in 2017. In some cases, these partnerships were still active in 2018, after the Cambridge-Analytica scandal.
Facebook isn't sorry
Facebook has already responded to the report, saying it has ended some of its partnerships over the past few months and that the main goal of the blog post was to make things more convenient for users. Without user consent, third parties would not have had access to information through partnerships or certain functions.