Senators Seek Answers Over Facebook's Data-Sharing Projects

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A pair of United States Senators on Tuesday demanded answers to concerns over Facebook’s data-sharing partnerships with original equipment manufacturers first reported several days back. Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican John Thune who chairs the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee penned a letter questioning whether the social media giant vetted its partnerships with hardware makers for potential privacy violations, especially following a 2011 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that required it to obtain explicit consent from all of its customers before sharing any of their data with third parties.

Device manufacturers such as Samsung and Microsoft are said to have been able to access data from Facebook profiles of their customers so long as they were logged into the network on their gadgets, in addition to being able to glean some data about their Facebook friends. In some cases, they were allowed to do so even if their customers specifically opted out of the optional data-sharing program, the New York Times reported Sunday. The bipartisan effort pushing for answers from Facebook co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg also saw the two Senators ask whether the multi-billionaire wants to revise his April testimony over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the first in a number of privacy debacles the company went through this spring.

The FTC said in March it’s looking into Facebook’s existing data privacy policies and how they relate to the 2011 settlement but the status of that probe remains unclear. While another Cambridge Analytica episode is unlikely to happen again due to revised term of use the firm introduced in 2015, preventing developers from mining data on one’s Facebook friends, those limitations never applied to its partnered original equipment manufacturers, i.e. any company which makes hardware which can be used for accessing Facebook and has a standing data-sharing agreement with the social media juggernaut. Some 60 major OEMs were collaborating with the company on such projects in the past and most do to this date, NYT previously claimed. Facebook said its OEM partnerships are entirely in line with its existing privacy policies and aren’t in violation of its 2011 settlement with the FTC, adding that any data shared through them is only used by third parties for creating custom Facebook experiences.