Facebook Defends Against Device-Integrated APIs Policy, But Concerns Remain

Sheri Evans
June 8, 2018

This occurred even after the social network had declared it would no longer share such information, and in some cases, device makers could retrieve personal information from the friends of users who believed they had barred any data sharing.

US Congressman David Cicilline, who has introduced a bill meant to curb Facebook and Google's influence in the news industry, said the Times report raises questions about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg's testimony before Congress earlier this year. This time, the New York Times reports Facebook has apparently shared an inappropriate amount of user information with device manufacturers, such as Apple, Samsung, and Amazon. Ime Archibong, the company's vice president of product partnerships, said in a blog post that Facebook had partnered with device makers in the days before smartphones had app stores so that consumers could "use Facebook whatever their device or operating system".

In premarket trading Monday, Facebook stock was down about 1.3%.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress in April to answer questions about data the company provided to third parties about their users.

Facebook denied any wrongdoing in a statement posted on its website in response to The New York Times story that revealed the existence of data-sharing agreements with numerous companies.

Archibong says the APIs were created to fill a demand for mobile Facebook which the company couldn't fulfill alone, and were thus necessary.

These partnerships allowed for Facebook features to be integrated into phones - a.k.a device-integrated APIs - allowing Blackberry users to call their Facebook friends, for instance.

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Archibong went on to say that Facebook is "not aware of any abuse by these companies".

According to The New York Times, Facebook brokered data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device makers, including Apple and Microsoft, so those companies could access data from their users' friends without asking for consent.

The company says that with iOS and Android now so dominant, it has now ended access by 22 device makers, and started limiting the power of them in April. Facebook released the documents last month, but provided the lawmakers with the name of only one partner - BlackBerry - and little information about how its agreement with the device maker worked.

This is very different from the public APIs used by third-party developers, like Aleksandr Kogan.

"This is yet another concerning example of companies collecting, sharing, and exploiting users' data in completely unexpected ways", commented Privacy International's legal officer Ailidh Callander. In other words, they don't need to ask for additional consent from users just as Facebook doesn't need to.

The firestorm erupted in March when it emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm with ties to President Donald Trump's campaign, gained improper access to tens of millions of Facebook users' data.

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