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Facebook Let Spotify & Netflix Read User's Private Messages

Facebook has found itself in hot water once again. After its recent data breach, it has been revealed that the social media giant has shared users’ private messages with its partners, mainly Spotify and Netflix.

Documents acquired by The New York Times show that in 2017 the company traded users’ private information with partners. The exchange was intended to increase advertising revenue by allowing companies like Microsoft’s Bing access to the names of users’ friends without consent and enabling Netflix and Spotify to read Facebook users’ private messages.

Even though Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in April that people “have complete control” over what they share on Facebook that appears not to be the case. The Times report reveals that Facebook enabled several companies to access data despite privacy protections, which may be a violation of the company’s 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, which disallowed the social media network from revealing user data without explicit consent.

“We know we’ve got work to do to regain people’s trust,” Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s director of privacy and public policy, said. “Protecting people’s information requires stronger teams, better technology and clearer policies, and that’s where we’ve been focused for most of 2018.”

Though the company says there is no evidence that its partners abused the data, Facebook shared no specific information regarding its sharing deals. Data privacy experts don’t believe the network’s claim that partners were exempt from regulatory requirements. “The only common theme is that they are partnerships that would benefit the company in terms of development or growth into an area that they otherwise could not get access to,” said Ashkan Soltani, former chief technologist at the F.T.C.

“This is just giving third parties permission to harvest data without you being informed of it or giving consent to it,” said David Vladeck, who formerly ran the F.T.C.’s consumer protection bureau. “I don’t understand how this unconsented-to data harvesting can at all be justified under the consent decree.”

Upset social media users have started a campaign with the hashtag #DeleteFacebook, and earlier this month, a British parliamentary committee began looking into released internal Facebook emails, which reveal details about partnerships and the sale of user data.

“I don’t believe it is legitimate to enter into data-sharing partnerships where there is not prior informed consent from the user,” said Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook. “No one should trust Facebook until they change their business model.”

Personal data has become a goldmine in recent years as companies extract and refine information that is worth billions of dollars. American companies are projected to spend nearly $20 billion by the end of the year to buy and process consumer data, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Though Facebook has never sold user data, it has given access to the social network for its own benefit. The company started forming data partnerships when it was just starting out since Zuckerberg wanted to combine Facebook services with other sites and platforms. In exchange, the company received data from its partners.

Spotify and Netflix have responded that they had no intention of exploiting user data other than to make recommendations. “Beyond these recommendations, we never accessed anyone’s personal messages and would never do that,” a spokesperson for Netflix said last Wednesday.

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