Facebook has acknowledged that it may have allowed third-party companies to access private messages of its users. The companies involved this time are Spotify and Netflix. The social media company was responding to a bombshell report published by the New York Times on Tuesday on how Facebook had been sharing users’ data with third-party companies over the years.
Facebook acknowledged after the report was released that it had indeed given the two companies significant access to data including sensitive private messages. The company noted that this was designed to allow interested users to log on to the Spotify app using Facebook and to later be able to send private messages too through Spotify. The Times report noted that Spotify, in particular, could see the private messages of nearly 70 million people a month. The report also noted that the companies that had access including Netflix, Spotify and even the Royal Bank of Canada could actually delete, read, write and literally control user’s inboxes.
In response to the Times report, Spotify and Netflix claimed that they were unaware that they had this kind of access. Facebook also insisted that despite this, there was no evidence to suggest that the access was abused in any way. Netflix made it categorically clear that it hasn’t access anyone’s messages neither did the company needed to do this. The streaming service added that over the years it has been doing whatever it can to make Netflix more social. Just a few months ago the company launched a feature that allowed friends to recommend TV shows via Facebook Messenger. The streaming platform noted that the feature was really not that popular and it was shut down. At no point after that did Netflix have any interest in accessing people’s private messages or even using Messenger to promote its content.
The New York report has also been criticized for trying to “scandalize” the integration between Facebook and other third-party companies. According to Alex Stamos, the former privacy chief at the social media company, this kind of integration can, in fact, signal a very healthy and interoperable ecosystem between two or more companies. Stamos added that it was wrong for the New York Times to try and depict this integration as something unusual and scandalous.
But many experts say that there was significant oversight on Facebook’s part. The fact that third-party companies were given access to huge chunks of very sensitive private data without users being notified is a huge red flag. Privacy experts note that a lot of people think that their private messages on the social media platform are indeed private. If they knew that there was a possibility that a third-party app was accessing that information, a lot of issues would have been raised.
It’s very likely that the arrangement that Facebook had with the two companies may have violated federal regulations. This is not the first privacy scandal engulfing Facebook. This year alone, the company has been embroiled in a number of high profile scandals including the infamous Cambridge Analytica.