Facebook Allowed Major Companies to Read Private User Messages

Facebook has allowed its partner companies much greater access to its users’ personal data than it previously disclosed, the social network giant admitted in a blog post.

Following a report from the New York Times this Tuesday, Facebook has admitted that some of the biggest tech companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify were able to see their user’s private messages and even contact details.

An investigation revealed that these third-party companies have always had the ability to read, write, and delete personal messages. Other than that, Microsoft’s Bing search engine has been given access by Facebook to reveal a person’s friends list without their permission.

Facebook, in its statement, denied that this was done without consent. It said that other companies, like Spotify, were only given access to personal data after a user signed into a third-party app using their Facebook credentials, as part of the company’s partners program.

The social network’s partners program, where it allowed users to sign into a third-party app directly through Facebook, has been misused a number of times as it allows external websites or apps to get access to a user’s Facebook account data.

In many cases, the amount of data given to external benefactors has been much greater than Facebook actually disclosed to its users.

Netflix and Spotify Respond

In relation to the latest development, Netflix and Spotify responded that they were unaware of how much access Facebook had actually granted them. A Netflix spokesperson told that the company had never tried to “access people’s private messages on Facebook”.

However, Netflix started a service to recommend people their shows and content on Facebook Messenger, but discontinued it later in 2015, the spokesperson added.

Amazon Too

According to internal documents, and other information from former Facebook employees recovered by the NY Times, Amazon also had special access to user information such as contact details and usernames of Facebook profiles and their mutual friends.

The report further says that the social network has helped over 150 different companies to get public data and made official deals to grant access. Facebook benefitted from this by having third-party companies help bring in more users.

Instant Personalization

Another Facebook feature called “instant personalization”, which was started in 2014, allowed users to see their friends’ public data by linking their profiles with external services. This feature was discontinued later on, but some of its code was left in place for future use, Facebook revealed in its blog post.

This code can be used by developers or third-party sites to view user information, though Facebook says that it has “no evidence data was used or misused after the program was shut down.”

Not The First Time

This is not the first time Facebook has taken a blow for mishandling public data. Ever since the Cambridge Analytics scandal, the social network has been under the spotlight as it let personal data of millions of people to get leaked and misused.

In the past year, Facebook’s share value has worsened by almost 20 percent, as the company is losing trust from both its users and investors.

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