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Facebook gave Spotify and Netflix access to users’ private messages
An exhaustive report from The New York Times shows the alarming extents to which Facebook has been sharing user data.
- The report is based on internal documents and interviews with former employees of Facebook and its corporate partners.
- It shows how Facebook gave more than 100 tech companies access to user data that goes beyond the scope that the social media giant had previously disclosed.
- Below are some tips for how you can prevent Facebook from sharing your personal data.
A new report shows how Facebook gave its partnering tech companies "more intrusive" access to user data than previously disclosed, including access to private messages.
The New York Times obtained hundreds of pages of documents and interviewed about 50 former employees of Facebook and its partners for its report. It reveals how the social media giant opened up its massive cache of user data to major tech companies in order to boost profits and gain users.
Facebook never quite sold its users' data, but it did grant "other companies access to parts of the social network in ways that advanced its own interests," the report states. One example is Facebook's partnership with Spotify, a music-streaming platform on which new users can easily create an account using their Facebook sign-in information.
Partnerships like this were part of a long-term strategy to "weave Facebook's services into other sites and platforms, believing it would stave off obsolescence and insulate Facebook from competition," according to the report.
In many cases, Facebook's partner companies had access to users' friends lists, contact information and, in the case of Netflix and Spotify, private messages. These third-party companies often didn't obtain permission from Facebook users to access their information. That's possibly because Facebook, in a legal sense, considered its partners to be extensions of itself. Therefore, the companies weren't in violation of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that barred Facebook from sharing users' data without permission.
Protestors from the pressure group Avaaz demonstrate outside Portcullis house where Facebook's Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer is to be questioned by members of parliament in London on April 26, 2018.
Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
Not everyone agrees.
"This is just giving third parties permission to harvest data without you being informed of it or giving consent to it," David Vladeck, who formerly ran the F.T.C.'s consumer protection bureau, told The Times. "I don't understand how this unconsented-to data harvesting can at all be justified under the consent decree."
Spokespeople for Facebook told The Times that the partnerships didn't violate users' privacy or the F.T.C. agreement, and that the company has found no evidence of wrongdoing by its partners. Some partners, including Amazon and Microsoft, said they used data appropriately, but declined to elaborate on what that means.
Many companies said they were unaware of the extent of the powers Facebook had granted them through the partnerships. It remains unclear how closely Facebook monitored the ways in which its partners used user data.
Shares of Facebook stock dropped following the report, shedding as much as $22 billion in market value. The news comes in the wake of multiple scandals that have bombarded the company this year, most recently the seizure of hundreds of internal documents by British lawmakers.
How to prevent Facebook from sharing your data
One of the best ways to protect your data, besides not using Facebook at all, is to make sure you never sign into a third-party platform by using your Facebook information. You can see which apps or websites you're currently logged into using Facebook by checking out your current settings:
- Desktop: Go to Settings > Apps and Websites. This should produce a list of all the services you're logged into with your Facebook information, and here you'll be able to remove unwanted services. (Just note that this might delete your account and other information on the selected apps.)
- Mobile: Go to Apps > Logged in with Facebook, and follow the above steps.
Is personal data the "oil of the 21st century"?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
That's the claim The Times makes in its new report. The data seems to back it up: By the end of 2018, American companies are projected to spend around $20 billion on user data. There's no shortage of it. Each day, about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data gets created, and much of that is personal data with which companies can use to created targeted ads, refine their services, study consumer habits, and, frankly, god knows what else.
A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.
- There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
- A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
- Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.
First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)
Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.
All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.
Image source: European Space Agency
The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.
Into and out of Earth's shadow
In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.
The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."
In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."
When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.
The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.
BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.
MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.
Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.
Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.
- There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
- Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
- "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.