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Maurizio Pesce/Flickr (CC-BY)
Facebook has reportedly been giving sensitive user information away to mobile device manufacturers, according to a report from the New York Times. The biggest names in technology are among at least 60 manufacturers who had special permission to the data, including Samsung, Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, and Microsoft.
The agreements were made to help the social network expand its reach and let device makers use its features, such as messaging, the Like button, and address books. In exchange, they gained access to users’ education history, relationship status, religion, political stance, and upcoming events they planned to attend.
The revelation comes as Facebook continues to suffer setbacks from the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal where a political data firm exploited the personal information of 87 million users. In its defense to questions from lawmakers and consumers, the company said it stopped giving third-party companies access to the data of users’ friends without their consent. But that policy change doesn’t appear to have been applied to smartphone, tablet, and laptop manufacturers.
According to the report, some device makers received information about users’ friends even if they had turned off sharing tools. This behavior is particularly concerning considering CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke frequently in his recent testimonies about policy changes in 2015 that were designed to prevent third-party apps from misusing data. Though these companies gather information the same way a third-party app would, Facebook considers them partners, and, therefore, an exception to the rule.
Facebook defended the practice by claiming the deals it made with companies included strict regulations on how they could use the data. It also said it is unaware of situations where the info was misused.
In a blog post titled “Why we disagree with the New York Times,” Facebook’s VP of product partnerships, Ime Archibong, explained Facebook offered an API to phone makers in the early days so they could “recreate the Facebook experience” since there were no app stores at the time. This gave a variety of device manufacturers using different operating systems the opportunity to offer the budding social network to their user base.
“This is very different from the public APIs used by third-party developers, like Aleksandr Kogan,” Archibong wrote. “These third-party developers were not allowed to offer versions of Facebook to people and, instead, used the Facebook information people shared with them to build completely new experiences.”
Many of the partnerships between Facebook and device makers are still in place, though the social giant says it started winding them down in April.
Phillip Tracy is a former technology staff writer at the Daily Dot. He's an expert on smartphones, social media trends, and gadgets. He previously reported on IoT and telecom for RCR Wireless News and contributed to NewBay Media magazine. He now writes for Laptop magazine.