Dec 19, 2018

Report: Facebook gave Netflix and Spotify access to private messages

A Facebook protester in London. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Facebook gave technology companies more access to personal user data than was previously made public, according to "hundreds of pages of Facebook documents" obtained by the New York Times.

Why it matters: Facebook's privacy practices are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. Per the Times, the new records portray the "most complete picture yet" of Facebook's practices of sharing its users' data. Facebook has been under intense scrutiny in recent months after it disclosed a major security breach that could have left as many as 50 million users' accounts vulnerable.

Details: Almost all Facebook users' friends could be accessible in Microsoft Bing searches without permission, the NYT reports. Netflix and Spotify had access to users' Facebook messages (Netflix says it never asked for or used the access). Amazon had user contact information and names through their Facebook friends, and even though Facebook said earlier this year that it had stopped sharing friends' posts, Yahoo could see them "as recently as this summer."

Our thought bubble: This undercuts Facebook's claims that it's gotten better at policing privacy over time. Facebook has acknowledged before that it let outside companies access user data for longer than it had previously made clear.

  • Where this story goes further, however, is in showing that data-sharing partnerships allowed for user information to flow out of the social network very recently — implicating some of the biggest players in tech.
  • Facebook is sloppy in some ways (like leaving data access available even after a partner has shut down a feature) but beyond that, these revelations expose how Facebook views user data and privacy: The company thinks it knows better than the users themselves.

The big picture: This will eventually present a business problem for Facebook.

  • The company's PR mantra since the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted in March has been "we don't sell user data." But we're seeing as these scandals unfold that the problem isn't necessarily that the company sells user data, it's that it's sloppy about how it protects and shares data with select partners, which points to a values problem.
  • For now, advertisers (its business lifeline) have largely ignored this issue because Facebook's marketing platform is so effective. But as Facebook tries to expand its ads business and stories like this unfold, the risk associated with having weak user privacy values could compound business interests. Case in point: Netflix and Spotify likely aren't thrilled they are caught up in this story about bad user data privacy practices.

Statement from Facebook:

"Facebook’s partners don't get to ignore people’s privacy settings, and it’s wrong to suggest that they do. Over the years, we’ve partnered with other companies so people can use Facebook on devices and platforms that we don’t support ourselves. Unlike a game, streaming music service, or other third-party app, which offer experiences that are independent of Facebook, these partners can only offer specific Facebook features and are unable to use information for independent purposes.
We know we've got work to do to regain people's trust. Protecting people's information requires stronger teams, better technology, and clearer policies, and that's where we've been focused for most of 2018. Partnerships are one area of focus and, as we've said, we're winding down the integration partnerships that were built to help people access Facebook.”
— Steve Satterfield, director of privacy and public policy at Facebook

The bottom line: This large tech company has gone [0] days without a damaging New York Times story.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 710,918 — Total deaths: 33,551 — Total recoveries: 148,900.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 135,499 — Total deaths: 2,381 — Total recoveries: 2,612.
  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "panicked" some people into fleeing New York
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reports 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reports almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Trump touts press briefing "ratings" as U.S. coronavirus case surge

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets on Sunday touting the high television ratings that his coronavirus press briefings have received, selectively citing a New York Times article that compared them to "The Bachelor" and "Monday Night Football."

Why it matters: The president has been holding daily press briefings in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, but news outlets have struggled with how to cover them live — as Trump has repeatedly been found to spread misinformation and contradict public health officials.

World coronavirus updates: Total cases surge to over 700,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now than more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 32,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Saturday he would issue a "strong" travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health