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Facebook allowed Netflix, Spotify to access private user messages

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The New York Times (NYT) on Wednesday, December 19 (Philippine time), published a story detailing Facebook's partnerships with various companies that involved the sharing of data in some measure from 2010 all the way up to 2017.

The newspaper reported on 270 pages of internal Facebook documents generated in 2017 and as well as interviews with former employees of Facebook.

Among the companies named in the report were Spotify and Netflix, whose arrangement with Facebook appears to be the most intrusive to a user's data privacy. The two companies were given the ability to read Facebook users' private messages. With the privilege, Spotify and Netflix could read, write and delete users' private messages, and see all participants on a thread.

The privilege had been given so as to allow users the option to share music through Facebook Messenger. Netflix, meanwhile, no longer has access to the messages since they have reportedly deactivated the features that incorporated it. 

Another company, the Royal Bank of Canada, is reported to have the same privilege, but disputed to NYT that they had any such access. Spotify and Netflix, meanwhile, said they were not aware that they had been granted such access. The report says that these companies may have had access to this kind of data up to 2017, but it isn't clear whether all privileged access has been removed now. 

Netflix responded after publication of the report, offering their own clarification. They said: “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.”

Adding to the worry is Facebook's admission to The Times that it had "mismanaged some of its partnerships, allowing certain companies’ access to continue long after they had shut down the features that required the data."

Along with Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada, here are the other companies mentioned in the report, along with the scope of data access that Facebook reportedly provided them with:

The documents give a clearer glimpse at how Facebook handles data and how they may use it to further their goals without necessarily selling the data.

By giving other companies access to some user data Facebook, in exchange, was given space on the other companies' platforms. This boosted Facebook's growth, gaining users from the many verticals occupied by what they've called "integration partners." Through the partnerships, Facebook sought to grow its userbase, drive more engagement, and ultimately drive up ad revenues. 

"Facebook has never sold its user data, fearful of user backlash and wary of handing would-be competitors a way to duplicate its most prized asset. Instead, internal documents show, it did the next best thing: granting other companies access to parts of the social network in ways that advanced its own interests," the NYT wrote. 

Whether or not Facebook will be facing legal action due to these partnerships and the arrangements detailed in the documents, are not yet clear as the FTC continues an ongoing investigation. – Rappler.com

Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.

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