Facebook had granted a select number of third-party companies access to the records of its users, including their friends list, as part of deals with those firms that involve sharing of user data, recent reports indicate. The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with those business undertakings, reported that those companies retained their access to that piece of data even after other developers were severed from that same trove of information sometime in 2015.
Aside from the friends list, the shared information reportedly included the phone number of a user's friends as well as metric data showing the degree of closeness between a user and his or her friends. The kind of companies that were given access to those pieces of data includes advertisers and other firms which have significant business dealings with the social media giant. Those deals were on top of Facebook's partnerships with dozens of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and tech giants including Samsung, BlackBerry, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft who had been receiving vast user data from Facebook for at least ten years. Those partnerships apparently broke Facebook's privacy settlement with the United States Federal Trade Commission in 2011, which prevents the Menlo Park, California-based company from sharing users' data with third parties without asking for an explicit consent from private individuals. Meanwhile, Facebook's partnerships with OEMs allow device makers to access information belonging to the Facebook contacts of their customers. Some companies were previously even able to obtain personal user information from individuals who specifically chose to opt out of the data-sharing program, according to a previous report by The New York Times.
In the latest revelation, Facebook executives confirmed the deals with a subset of companies, adding that the goal was to enhance users' experience with the social media platform, pilot new features, and close the existing information-sharing deals with specific partners. The disclosure also compounds Facebook's privacy blunder especially after Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican John Thune, chairpersons of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, penned a letter demanding answers to concerns over Facebook's data-sharing partnerships with OEMs and asking whether the social media giant vetted its partnerships with hardware makers for potential privacy violations.