Facebook admits it gave other companies access to your private messages – but with your consent

Netflix and Spotify were given access to private messages, a New York Times report claims.
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Facebook could be about to be embroiled in another privacy scandal after a New York Times story reports it shared users' private messages with other companies.

You can read the newspaper's report here, in which it cites internal Facebook documents and interviews with former workers, and alleges the social media giant has been giving other tech firms access to some of users' most confidential information.

Facebook is still recovering from the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year, in which the political data firm hired by the Trump campaign in the run-up to the 2016 election was able to access private information on more than 50 million users.

In the latest piece, the NYT alleges Facebook allowed Microsoft's Bing search engine "to see the names of virtually all Facebook users' friends without consent."

It also states that Facebook "gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users' private messages."

These two companies, along with the Royal Bank of Canada, were also given the ability to read, write and delete users' private messages, and see all participants on a thread.

The companies told the newspaper they were unaware of the privileges that Facebook had granted them, with the Royal Bank of Canada rejecting the idea it had such access.

Spotify still offers a service that allows users to share music via Facebook Messenger, though the bank and Netflix have deactivated features that incorporated sharing within messages.

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Facebook explains

In a statement on its website, Facebook says that all of the access it gave to companies was with users' consent.

To put it simply, this work was about helping people do two things. First, people could access their Facebook accounts or specific Facebook features on devices and platforms built by other companies like Apple, Amazon, Blackberry and Yahoo. These are known as integration partners. Second, people could have more social experiences – like seeing recommendations from their Facebook friends – on other popular apps and websites, like Netflix, The New York Times, Pandora and Spotify.

"We’ve been public about these features and partnerships over the years because we wanted people to actually use them – and many people did," it added. "They were discussed, reviewed, and scrutinized by a wide variety of journalists and privacy advocates."

Most of these integrations have now gone, the company notes, including the "instant personalization" feature through Bing that allow Bing users to get recommendations based on what a person's Facebook friends shared publicly. This ended in 2014.

Partners could get access to people's Facebook messages, but only if you use the partner's messaging feature, it said.

"Take Spotify for example. After signing in to your Facebook account in Spotify’s desktop app, you could then send and receive messages without ever leaving the app. Our API provided partners with access to the person’s messages in order to power this type of feature."

If Facebook's explanation is accurate, the question facing the company now is to what extent it was made clear to users that their messages could potentially be accessed through Facebook's integrated partners.

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