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Facebook Gives Netflix and Spotify Access to Private Messages in Latest Privacy Breach

It's almost as if...Facebook doesn't care about their users.

Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the second day of testimony before Congress by Zuckerberg, 33, after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign.

In March, Facebook took out full page apology ads in several prominent newspapers. The ad was in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where nearly 100 million users had their data mined by the political consulting firm for use in the 2016 presidential election. The header of the ad read, “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.”

Now, a new exposé from the New York Times reveals the the social network has been not only sharing user data, but has allowed more than 150 tech companies unprecedented access to user’s private messages and content. Facebook allowed Netflix, Spotify and the Royal Bank of Canada to read, write and delete users’ private messages, as well as allowing Microsoft, Sony and Amazon access to the email addresses of users and their friends.

These partnerships often focus on company integrations, where Facebook and another tech company collaborate to create new apps, products or capabilities. For example, Spotify was given access to the messaging app so they could integrate a feature where users can send spotify songs and playlists via messager.

The investigation shows a troubling pattern of Facebook allowing the tech companies they’ve partnered with to sidestep privacy rules in the name of profit. This violates a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that blocks Facebook from sharing user data without permission. Facebook released a statement saying, “None of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people’s permission, nor did they violate our 2012 settlement with the FTC.”

Using loopholes within privacy agreements, Facebook has extended their own privacy rules to these tech companies, classifying them as partners of Facebook and granting them access to the data. For their part, companies like Netflix, Apple and Spotify claim that they were ignorant to the full scale of their access and unaware of the breach in privacy.

*Update:* A Netflix spokesperson provided us with the following statement on the subject:

“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.

While Facebook continues to profit off of data mining, the government seems wholly unprepared to tackle the complex issue. This was painfully obvious when Google chief executive Sundar Pichai appeared before the House Judiciary Committee just last week. The committee was made up of older reps who lacked the most basic understanding of technology, including Rep. Steve King (R-IA) who questioned Pichai about his granddaughter’s iPhone, only to be told by the CEO that Google doesn’t make the product.

Members of the Senate have called on congress to pass the data privacy bill, a piece of bi-partisan legislation from U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Kennedy (R-LA).

2019 brings a newer, younger and more tech-savvy class of congresspeople into the government. Hopefully they will be able to steer policy towards providing concrete data protection and more transparency from Facebook and other tech companies. In the meantime, brace yourselves for more full page apologies. And maybe delete your Facebook account.

(via New York Times, image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, son, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.