Facebook Defends Giving Other Tech Companies Users’ Private Information for Years

Facebook says it disagrees with how The New York Times is presenting data-sharing deals it has used for at least 10 years. Here, a man reads security parameters on his phone in front of a Facebook logo in Bordeaux, southwestern France.
Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Facing new accusations about how it handles users’ data, Facebook says “we disagree” with reports that the company exposed a wealth of private information to other tech giants as part of its plan to become ubiquitous on mobile devices.

Facebook says it made deals with about 60 companies, from Apple, Amazon and Blackberry to HTC, Microsoft and Samsung, to “recreate Facebook-like experiences” on their devices.

The data-sharing partnerships, made a decade ago, were highlighted by The New York Times, which reports that in some cases, “device makers could retrieve personal information even from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing.”

Facebook denies that claim, issuing a statement saying that information from users’ contacts “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,” Facebook adds.

In an interview with NPR Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook, said his company has never received or requested personal data under deals with Facebook.

“The things mentioned in the Times article about relationship statuses and all these kinds of stuff, this is so foreign to us, and not data that we have ever received at all or requested — zero,” he said.

“What we did was we integrated the ability to share in the operating system, make it simple to share a photo and that sort of thing,” Cook added. “So it’s a convenience for the user. We weren’t in the data business. We’ve never been in the data business.”

The new accusations center on Facebook’s use of special APIs — application programming interfaces — that it created to allow users’ data and profile information to be integrated into devices.

Facebook says it also shared the data so that users of Apple, Samsung and other devices could get notifications, add friends and have the ability to like things online. But the Times says Facebook provided far-ranging access — and possibly broke rules in a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, in which Facebook agreed that its users’ data wouldn’t be shared with third parties without their consent.

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SOURCE: NPR, Bill Chappell