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Facebook Shared User Data with Other Tech Giants

A damning investigation by the New York Times has revealed that Facebook hasn’t just been hoovering up as much data as possible about its 2.2 billion users for its own purposes; it has also been surreptitiously sharing that data with tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Sony, Spotify, Yahoo, Russian search giant Yandex, and yes, even Apple.

Facebook’s director of privacy and public policy claimed that none of the partnerships violated users’ privacy or a 2011 consent agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission that prevented the company from sharing data without explicit permission. But when did a corporate spokesweasel ever say, “It’s a fair cop, guvnor.”?

About Apple, the article says:

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.

Apple officials said they were not aware that Facebook had granted its devices any special access. They added that any shared data remained on the devices and was not available to anyone other than the users.

It’s hard to unpack what this means. Given Apple’s privacy stance over the past few years, it seems extremely unlikely that Apple would have coded iOS to collect data from Facebook without user awareness or interaction. In older versions of iOS, it was possible to sync Facebook contacts and calendar events to the iPhone, but that required the user to log in to Facebook in the iPhone’s Settings app and make sure the appropriate switches were enabled.

It’s easy to call for regulation of Facebook, and something has to change with regard to a company that has both so much data and so little conscience. But Facebook is far from alone in abusing user privacy for fun and profit, so privacy legislation with actual teeth like the EU’s GDPR would seem to be the only solution. It’s hard to see that happening anytime soon in the US until politicians can be convinced that privacy should be treated as a human right.

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Comments About Facebook Shared User Data with Other Tech Giants

Notable Replies

  1. "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.

    Apple officials said they were not aware that Facebook had granted its devices any special access. They added that any shared data remained on the devices and was not available to anyone other than the users."

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/technology/facebook-privacy.html?module=inline

  2. Thanks. I don’t usually read through yet another corporate privacy story but this one seems pretty wide-ranging and significant. It reveals a lot of Facebook deal-making with user’s data but also rampant carelessness in the technical systems controlling access and managing that access over time. It also shows another failure by federal regulators to do their jobs.

    [Apple] added that any shared data remained on the devices and was not available to anyone other than the users.

    That’s an important distinction. There’s a big difference between the Calendar and Contacts apps on your iPhone accessing your Facebook data and corporate servers somewhere accessing it. Such access may also be used with Siri so

    According to Facebook, most of its data partnerships fall under an exemption to the F.T.C. agreement. The company argues that the partner companies are service providers — companies that use the data only “for and at the direction of” Facebook and function as an extension of the social network.

    Was a Facebook representative smirking while they were saying that? These “partnerships” are clearly not what the exemption was meant for, the former F.T.C. officials indicated as much.

    I’d like to quit Facebook but I don’t have a replacement for maintaining contact with family and friends that are not as close. I’ve gotten to know one cousin in particular in a way I never would have if not for what she writes there.

  3. There’s multiple dimensions to this issue & problem, of which Facebook is a good poster child among a growing list brought into the light:
    The lure of something with a free cash price vs paying with something (your privacy) of commercial value.
    The profound mass ignorance & delusion that small bits of personal info are inconsequential, i.e., the failure to view what the synergistic pile of bits yields. It’s the assemblage of bits that invades privacy and has commercial value!
    Business models based on hoovering up personal data w/o sufficient disclosure, user transparency & control.
    Humans’ lazy nature, to not read long obfuscating legalese, commonly exploited by the computer industry. In many cases add in inability to decipher what it really means. And in all cases: a take it or leave it proposition.
    Lack of Constitutional protection of privacy. And strong corporate lobbying & obfuscation against such rights.
    Social media designs which deliberately facilitate compulsive, obsessive, narcissistic, insecure, attention-getting, and addictive behaviors. That media connects, but fosters not in healthy ways.
    Regulatory capture by high tech combined with legislative paralysis & incompetency - more corporate exploitation.
    A user population largely ignorant of all the ways personal dossiers have been and are used against them.

    So what’s it going to take to cure this???! Fat chance, when human nature is at the core of the problem.

  4. Though Facebook has a few millions of active members in the wake of all the scandals, advertising revenues continue to grow, though for the moment, a bit less than they had been a year ago. As long as ads in Facebook continue to produce good results for advertisers, a “cure” is unlikely.

    US 2018 ad revenue:

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/tonysilber/2018/12/31/facebook-ad-spend-from-national-marketers-is-slowing-intelligence-firms-data-shows/#686c7fb91591

    A global perspective:

    https://www.statista.com/statistics/422035/facebooks-quarterly-global-revenue/

    But Amazon recently unified and greatly expanded its media network and offerings. They are expected to move into the #3 slot very soon:

    https://variety.com/2018/digital/news/amazon-us-digital-ad-revenue-google-facebook-1202947923/

    Most probably, this doesn’t make Facebook and Google very happy.

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