Facebook has been lambasted in recent months for its controversial data sharing practices, most notably over the incident in which the social media network allowed Cambridge Analytica to access the private data of tens of millions of people without their permission.
Further details on Facebook’s data sharing practices were revealed last week in a 700+ page document dump the social media network submitted in response to a request from the House Energy & Commerce Committee. The report confirmed that Facebook shared user information with 52 firms – including four Chinese companies the US has flagged as national security threats (Lenovo, Huawei, TCL, and Oppo).
“The news that Facebook provided privileged access…to Chinese device makers like Huawei and TCL raises legitimate concerns, and I look forward to learning more about how Facebook ensured that information about their users was not sent to Chinese servers,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-VA).
Facebook claims the data sharing arrangements were necessary in order to make its social media platform work more effectively on different devices and says that most of the partnerships were established when a majority of users were not using Apple and Google’s advanced operating systems.
“People went online using a wide variety of text-only phones, feature phones, and early smartphones with varying capabilities,” said Facebook. “In that environment, the demand for Internet services like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube outpaced our industry’s ability to build versions of our services that worked on every phone and operating system.”
While Facebook has ended nearly all of its data sharing relationships, its partnership with Amazon, Apple, and Tobii will continue. Facebook also has arrangements with Mozilla, Alibaba, and Opera – but those relationships don’t include access to friends’ data.
Facebook also admitted to giving 60+ third party app developers an extended time frame during which to “come into compliance” with tougher sharing rules it implemented in 2015. These third parties include Spotify and Hinge.
“While these partnerships weren’t necessarily nefarious in intent, there are concerns Facebook has been using semantics to share data beyond an FTC consent decree requiring the site to obtain permission before collecting more data than a person’s privacy settings allow,” reports EnGadget. “It contended that vendors in these partnerships were suppliers, not third parties, and claimed that it still wasn’t violating the decree in its new response.”
Facebook’s report to Congress comes less than a month after the site gave Congress a separate, 452-page set of answers to questions that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg failed to answer during his April testimony.
The latest report still doesn’t explain everything, though, such as why the site failed to investigate the “thisismydigitallife” app Cambridge Analytica used to obtain information about Facebook users’ friends.
Editor’s note: Remember, if you use Facebook, you are not the customer, you are the product.