The year 2018 just can’t seem to end soon enough for Facebook. One after the other, it is as if controversy is just following the social network everywhere. The latest controversy is about Facebook sharing user data, apparently without users’ permissions. The social network has now released an official explanation for what was actually going on.
“In the past day, we’ve been accused of disclosing people’s private messages to partners without their knowledge. That’s not true – and we wanted to provide more facts about our messaging partnerships,” says Ime Archibong, VP of Product Partnerships, Facebook. At this point, Facebook points to how applications and services integrate the ability to hook-up with other applications and allow users the ability to share, communicate and even access data across applications. It is perhaps rather cheeky that Facebook used the specific example of Apple Mail and Amazon’s Alexa to get its point across—"think of being able to have Alexa read your email aloud or to read your email on Apple’s Mail app.”
Facebook’s explanation focuses on the permissions of “read/write”. In order for a user to write a message to a Facebook friend from within the Spotify app, for instance, Facebook needed to give Spotify “write access” to the user’s data. For the user to then be able to read messages back, Facebook needed Spotify to have “read access.” The third permission is called “Delete access”, which means that if one user deleted a particular message sent on Facebook from within Spotify, that message would be deleted from the Facebook platform itself too. “No third party was reading your private messages or writing messages to your friends without your permission. Many news stories imply we were shipping over private messages to partners, which is not correct,” clarifies Archibong.
Facebook goes on to stress that while these experiments and partnerships were shelved nearly three years ago, the access was only available after a user input and these services did not have any automatic access to user data.
However, when the confidence in Facebook’s ability to safeguard user data is at its lowest point ever, it is not exactly difficult to understand the outrage over the latest revelation. This is just the latest in the long line of revelations through the year, which started with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The fact that Facebook hasn’t been entirely serious about user data privacy, is something that users are not brushing aside easily either.