Facebook is in the news again, but not for the reasons it wants to be. The New York Times published an extensive report on the social giant’s privacy practices, this time focusing on data-sharing agreements with more than 150 partners, including tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify and Netflix.
The Times reports that these agreements, some of which are still active today, give companies from a variety of industries more access to user data than previously known and essentially exempted partners from its privacy rules. From the report:
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.
Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s director of privacy and public policy, told the Times that its data-sharing partnerships didn’t violate users’ privacy and required companies to follow Facebook policies. Satterfield also insisted that the agreements don’t violate a consent agreement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission forbade Facebook from sharing user data without permission.
A few of the companies —Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo — told the Times they used the data appropriately but declined to give further details. Amazon issued the following statement in response to our inquiry about the story.
Microsoft told GeekWire during its partnership with Facebook it respected all user preferences. Officials told the Times it used data to build profiles of Facebook users on Microsoft servers. Data wasn’t used for advertising and has since been deleted, the company told the Times.
Netflix issued the following statement on its relationship with Facebook: “Over the years we have tried various ways to make Netflix 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. 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.”
The report notes the importance of user data in this day and age, calling it the “oil of the 21st century, a resource worth billions to those who can most effectively extract and refine it.” Companies are spending billions on data, and this appetite has been a boon for Facebook and Google in particular given the vast amounts of information they have on customers.
It’s been a scandal-ridden year for Facebook. Reports surfaced about personal data of millions of users being illegitimately shared with Republican-backed political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica and the company’s attempts to deflect blame for its role in Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Facebook stock is down slightly Wednesday morning.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include statements and comments from Microsoft and Netflix.