Facebook sharing private user data with mobile companies demonstrates a pattern of indifference

The social media giant is immune to obloquy.

 |  3-minute read |   05-06-2018
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Data is the new oil. Except the engine (in fact, all the engines in the world) is leaking.

In the aftermath of the exposé carried out by The Observer, that revealed how a British voter-profiling firm named Cambridge Analytica got its hands on the private data of millions of Facebook users (which was allegedly used in manipulation elections and referendums), there has been widespread acknowledgement of just how vulnerable data is. But such knowledge and the outrage that followed has hardly changed the reality: our data, despite Facebook’s repeated reassurances and testimonies in front of Congressional committees, is not safe.

Facebook, it seems is immune to obloquy.

A report from the New York Times states that the Menlo Park-based social media giant, run by a 33-year-old sweaty billionaire, struck agreements with at least 60 phone companies — including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung — over the last decade, allowing the phone and their manufacturers access to vast amounts of its users’ personal information.

The deals, as per the NYT report, allowed Facebook to expand its reach and let device makers offer customers popular features of the social network, such as messaging, “like” buttons and address books. Facebook, in fact, allowed the companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent. Some device makers could even retrieve personal information from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing.

What is most disconcerting is, despite legal and moral repercussions, amidst public outcry, most of these partnerships (with mobile device companies) still remain intact — even though Facebook began winding them down in April.

delete_060518081511.jpgNo, we don't Like. Photo: DailyO

Facebook, of course, has “disagreed” with the NYT report.

In a blog post, Ime Archibong, VP of Product Partnerships at Facebook, has written: “These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook 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. And our partnership and engineering teams approved the Facebook experiences these companies built. 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.”

Others, however, disagree with this disagreement.

Speaking to the NYT, Ashkan Soltani, a research and privacy consultant who formerly served as the Federal Trade Commission’s chief technologist said: “It’s like having door locks installed, only to find out that the locksmith also gave keys to all of his friends so they can come in and rifle through your stuff without having to ask you for permission.”

In fact, the programme was controversial even within Facebook.

Former Facebook employee who led third-party ad and privacy compliance, Sandy Parakilas, noted: "This was flagged internally as a privacy issue. It is shocking that this practice may still continue six years later, and it appears to contradict Facebook's testimony to Congress that all friend permissions were disabled."

Back in April, Zuckerberg, ahead of his testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, had said: “We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I'm sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here.”

zuxx_060518083203.jpg'I'm sorry (but it might happen again).' [Photo: Reuters]

While the words sounded nice, Facebook's actions have only demonstrated a pattern of indifference.

It would seem Zuckerberg’s mea culpas serve no other purpose than to divert the public’s attention from all of Facebook's shady dealings.

It’s only a matter of time before the emperor of an e-nation of more than 2.2 billion people comes up on stage, faces the flashing cameras and the old white men from government offices who do not understand data privacy, takes a nervous sip of water, repeats, “I am sorry” — and then continues like nothing has changed.

Also read: Munna Bhai to Sanju: How Rajkumar Hirani 'legitimised' Bollywood's No 1 enfant terrible

Writer

Pathikrit Sanyal Pathikrit Sanyal @bucketheadcase

The author is a culture writer who likes talking about the internet, memes, privacy and all things pop culture.

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