Facebook Allowed Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Sony, Spotify, Yahoo, and Others to Access Users' Data

The gist of the latest exposé on Facebook's chicanery is this: Facebook granted access to users' data, including private messages, to other tech giants without disclosing the arrangement to users, now claiming they weren't obliged to be transparent about it because those partnership effectively made the other companies an extension of Facebook. Further, among these "integration partners" was the Russian search firm Yandex, which Ukraine's security service has accused of giving user data to the Kremlin, and the Chinese company Huawei, which U.S. intelligence has flagged as a security threat.

Gabriel J.X. Dance, Michael LaForgia, and Nicholas Confessore at the New York Times report:
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.

...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.

...Facebook, in turn, used contact lists from the partners, including Amazon, Yahoo, and the Chinese company Huawei — which has been flagged as a security threat by American intelligence officials — to gain deeper insight into people's relationships and suggest more connections, the records show.

...As of 2017, Sony, Microsoft, Amazon, and others could obtain users' email addresses through their friends.

Facebook also allowed Spotify, Netflix, and the Royal Bank of Canada to read, write and delete users' private messages, and to see all participants on a thread — privileges that appeared to go beyond what the companies needed to integrate Facebook into their systems, the records show.

...Facebook empowered Apple to hide from Facebook users all indicators that its devices were asking for data. Apple devices also had access to the contact numbers and calendar entries of people who had changed their account settings to disable all sharing, the records show.

...Facebook even recategorized one company, the Russian search giant Yandex, as an integration partner.

Facebook records show Yandex had access in 2017 to Facebook's unique user IDs even after the social network stopped sharing them with other applications, citing privacy risks. A spokeswoman for Yandex, which was accused last year by Ukraine's security service of funneling its user data to the Kremlin, said the company was unaware of the access and did not know why Facebook had allowed it to continue.

...In October, Facebook said Yandex was not an integration partner. But in early December, as The Times was preparing to publish this article, Facebook told congressional lawmakers that it was.
There is much, much more at the link, including a detailed explanation of how these practices might have run afoul of FTC law.

Facebook's reckless pursuit of profit via their vast data-sharing scheme has exploited and imperiled individual people, has potentially exposed corporations to intellectual property theft, and has risked the national security of the United States.

The harm this single company has caused is almost too vast to fully comprehend.

And among this grave harm is the fact that Facebook has crushed in its massive wake many of the platforms that would have served as effective alternatives for people who have come to depend on Facebook.

For people who are housebound, or people who have moved very far away from family and friends, or people whose primary support network is online because of lack of safety in their offline community, as examples, not participating on Facebook can leave one bereft of social interaction.

If all your friends, family, colleagues, support network, community are on Facebook, you can't exactly not be on it, unless you manage to convince all of them to move to a different social platform, too.

Facebook has become a way to sustain long-distance relationships; it has become a way to do party organizing and invites; it has become a way to connect with new people after a move; it has become a way to tap into local resistance activism and politics.

A great many people are currently searching for alternatives to Facebook, only to discover that Facebook has consumed and destroyed most of them. And bully for everyone who doesn't need the services that Facebook provides, but not everyone is so fortunate.

Facebook has been absolute shit at various times for many marginalized people — but it's also been a lifeline for many marginalized people, too.

That it has become an overwhelming monopoly means that abandoning Facebook would leave countless people in a devastating social vacuum.

Which, of course, was by design. Facebook got rid of competitors to make its users dependent on its platform, and we cannot blithely dismiss what that now means for the wellbeing of people who are indeed dependent on it.

That is causing a lot of people a lot of anxiety at the moment. It's not a fun choice to have to make: Your mental health or your privacy and unwilling complicity in Facebook's unethical business practices.

Facebook is dangerous trash. They harm their users and subvert democracy and decency. But they are not akin to a household product which has run a contemptible advert, and you can just choose to buy a different brand the next time you shop for groceries. There isn't an easy alternative.

I hope that's something we can all keep in mind, as calls to leave the platform understandably become more urgent. Be kind with people who are reliant on Facebook.

Be kinder to Facebook users than Facebook has been.

We need consequences for Facebook, and we also need an alternative. Both. Desperately.

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