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Saavn among 61 companies that enjoyed access to Facebook user data even after its stricter controls

Facebook said that it is presently investigating apps that had access to large amounts of information before the platform policies were changed in 2014.

twitter-logoBusinessToday.In | July 4, 2018 | Updated 12:56 IST
Saavn among 61 companies that enjoyed access to Facebook user data even after its stricter controls

In a 747-page document, submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, Facebook answered over 2,000 questions posed by the Senate and House Committees following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Among several disclosures, the document shared details of 52 companies that "Facebook authorized to build versions of Facebook or Facebook features for their devices and products". The list includes Airtel, Sony, LG, Blackberry, HTC, Docomo, Motorola/Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, Kodak, Apple and Virgin Mobile.

"The matter pertains to the year 2010 when Airtel was granted access to data by Facebook as an App developer. The project ended in 2013 and so did the access to the data. We confirm that the data was used only for our internal purposes. We take data privacy extremely seriously and follow a zero tolerance policy on the same," Airtel said in a statement to The Indian Express.

Facebook claims that it has already discontinued 38 of the above 52 partnerships, and will shut down an additional seven by the end of July 2018 and another one by the end of October 2018. These eight companies include big names like Nokia, Samsung, Yahoo and Vodafone.

The social media giant further stated that three partnerships, Amazon, Apple and Tobii, will continue beyond October 2018 due to existing agreements. Interestingly, last month Apple CEO Tim Cook had been widely quoted in the media denying any data relationship with Facebook.

"We also will continue partnerships with Mozilla, Alibaba and Opera - which enable people to receive notifications about Facebook in their web browsers - but their integrations will not have access to friends' data," Facebook added in its document.

The company also admitted that several companies continued accessing Facebook users' data even after it announced stricter privacy controls. In April 2014, Facebook had announced that it would more tightly restrict its platform APIs to prevent abuse and gave existing apps a deadline of May 2015 to comply with its new protocols. In March, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the same thing in his public apology for the improper harvesting of data belonging to 50 million users by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. He claimed that Facebook had changed the "entire platform to dramatically limit the data apps could access" in 2014 so apps could no longer ask for data about a person's friends unless their friends had also authorized the app. "We also required developers to get approval from us before they could request any sensitive data from people," he added.

However, the recently-released document reveals that 61 companies had been "given a one-time extension of less than six months beyond May 2015 to come into compliance". These include Reliance/Saavn, AOL, Spotify, Audi, Nike, Panasonic, Oracle and Nissan. In fact, Facebook admitted that "one company, Serotek, an accessibility app, received an 8 months extension to January 2016".

The document further stated that "in the context of our ongoing review of third-party apps, we discovered a very small number of companies... that theoretically could have accessed limited friends' data as a result of API access that they received in the context of a beta test". These five companies are PeekSocial, Activision/Bizarre Creations, Fun2Shoot, Golden Union Co and IQ Zone/PicDial. "We are not aware that any of this handful of companies used this access, and we have now revoked any technical capability they may have had to access any friends' data," added Facebook.

Significantly, the partnerships that Facebook has identified in the document may not be a complete list. "It is important to note that the lists above are comprehensive to the best of our ability. It is possible we have not been able to identify some extensions. It is also possible that early records may have been deleted from our system," said Facebook.

But there is no denying the fact that the company has stepped up efforts to protect user data in recent times. "In 2017, we took action against about 370,000 apps, ranging from imposing certain restrictions to removal of the app from the platform. Moreover, we have required parties who have procured our data without authorization to delete that data. We have invested significant resources in these efforts," said Facebook.

The company added that it is presently investigating apps that had access to large amounts of information before the platform policies were changed in 2014. "As of June 2018, around 200 apps (from a handful of developers: Kogan, AIQ, Cube You, the Cambridge Psychometrics Center, myPersonality, and AIQ) have been suspended - pending a thorough investigation into whether they did in fact misuse any data," the company said. AIQ, to remind you, was affiliated with Cambridge Analytica. "Where we find evidence that these or other apps did misuse data, we will ban them and let people know," Facebook added.

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