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Facebook let Netflix, Spotify, and other companies read your private messages

Between 2010 and today, Facebook shared users’ private data, including private messages and contact info, with more than 150 companies.

Mark Zuckerberg Getty Images

As the media continues to uncover more and more information about ongoing privacy issues regarding Facebook — both its intentional data sharing and its unintentional leaks — the New York Times has published a new bombshell report: Facebook has spent years giving major corporations, including the Times itself, invasive access to its users’ content and contact information, much more than it has previously disclosed.

As detailed in documents obtained by the Times, Facebook gave companies like Netflix and Spotify access to its users’ private Facebook messages, in addition to an extensive range of other personal data.

And as the most eye-popping quote from the Times report reveals:

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

In all, the Times reports that between 2010 and 2018, Facebook gave more than 150 companies access to the personal data of its users. The range of intentionally shared data includes private messages, the identities of people in those messages, users’ contact information, friend lists, and even the content of friends’ posts.

“Facebook has never sold its user data,” write Gabriel J.X. Dance, Michael LaForgia, and Nicholas Confessore. “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.” In some cases, these features could be activated by Facebook’s partner companies without the knowledge or permission of Facebook’s users.

Spokespeople at some of Facebook’s partner companies said the companies didn’t even know they had such broad privileges. But the Times reports that many of the companies — including the Times itself — had access to the information up until 2017.

Currently, Spotify still has the ability to access users’ Facebook Messenger content in order to allow people to share music through the platform.

The Times report is the latest example of many this year in which Facebook has failed to disclose the extent of its intentional data sharing, despite ongoing public scrutiny, congressional hearings, legal wrangling, and media watchdogging.

You can read the full report here.

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