Facebook knows everything about you, and a new New York Times investigation shows it liked to share that data with its partners, from other Silicon Valley giants to foreign companies that work with autocratic governments.
The Times story details just how broad these data-sharing agreements were without informing users, potentially violating Facebook’s consent decree with the US Federal Trade Commission. The bit that incensed the internet in particular was how the company let Netflix, Spotify, and the Royal Bank of Canada read users’ private messages through built-in Messenger features. The companies got “privileges that appeared to go beyond what the companies needed to integrate Facebook into their systems,” records obtained by the Times show.
Although it’s concerning, and clearly shows that the company doesn’t actually hold user privacy in high regard, it shouldn’t be particularly surprising. Facebook is a data mining-and-gathering operation. It technically doesn’t sell the data, but Facebook was built on sharing it with others, in exchange for getting bigger and more powerful.
Take it from Facebook executives themselves:
Facebook says it didn’t violate the FTC consent decree because its “partners”—the companies it shares data with—are extensions of itself. The only thing, as the Times notes, is that these “extensions” were helping the company makes billions of dollars: “Every corporate partner that integrated Facebook data into its online products helped drive the platform’s expansion, bringing in new users, spurring them to spend more time on Facebook and driving up advertising revenue. At the same time, Facebook got critical data back from its partners.”
Netflix said in a statement that the company has tried “various ways” to make its product more social. “One example of this was a feature we launched in 2014 that enabled members to recommend TV shows and movies to their Facebook friends via Messenger or Netflix,” a spokesperson said. “It was never that popular so we shut the feature down in 2015. At no time did we access people’s private messages on Facebook, or ask for the ability to do so.”