Facebook admits it gave tech companies access to users' personal messages

Facebook acknowledged that it gave large tech companies access to some users’ personal information, including private messages, but said it only did so with their permission.

The response, penned by Facebook executive Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, followed an explosive New York Times report, which described deals that Facebook had struck with companies, including Netflix and Spotify, that allowed the companies to read, write and delete users’ private messages. It also let Microsoft’s Bing search engine see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, according to the Times, which cited hundreds of internal documents.

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Netflix denied to the Times that it read users' private messages.

In order for companies like Spotify to access personal messages, Facebook said users had to “explicitly sign in” to Facebook through the other companies’ app.

All in all, the deals ultimately benefited more than 150 companies, including tech businesses, online retailers, entertainment sites, automakers and media organizations. The oldest deals date back to 2010, but all were active in 2017. Some were still in effect this year, according to the Times.

Facebook, however, said it shut down the deals -- “instant personalization” -- in 2014, although it admitted that some companies still had access to users’ information.

“Instant personalization only involved public information, and we have no evidence that data was used or misused after the program was shut down,” Papamiltiadis wrote. "However, we shouldn’t have left the APIs in place after we shut down instant personalization." (An API is an application programming interface.)

It’s been a tough year for Facebook, which has been plagued by scandals, starting with the shocking information that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica gathered data from 87 million users, which was then reportedly used to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Earlier this year, a British lawmaker -- Damian Collins -- released a trove of internal Facebook emails, revealing how the social media platform favored certain companies by offering them special access to user data. Facebook refuted the claim and said it had been "cherry-picked" as part of a lawsuit designed to force them to share information on friends of the app's users.

But Collins said on Wednesday the Times report proved Facebook "offers preferential access to user data to some of its major corporate partners."

“We have to seriously challenge the claim by Facebook that they are not selling user data," he said in a statement. "They may not be letting people take it away by the bucket load, but they do reward companies with access to data that others are denied, if they place a high value on the business they do together. This is just another form of selling."