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Facebook enabled Apple devices to obfuscate data sharing from users, report says [u]

A damning report on Tuesday provides further details on Facebook's shady data sharing practices, already under intense scrutiny for the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, suggesting the social media giant enabled Apple devices to surreptitiously collect information about users without their — or apparently Apple's — knowledge.

Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.


Citing "hundreds of pages" of Facebook documents, as well as interviews with former employees and partners, The New York Times reports the social network inked special data sharing arrangements with tech companies including Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify and Amazon. The symbiotic relationships were designed to stimulate growth, but potentially ran afoul of standing legal mandates and Facebook's own ruleset.

The report pulls from an internal Facebook document created in 2017 to track the company's web of partnerships. Detailed within are policies that appear to grant wide-roving third-party access to user information at a level far beyond what Facebook has admitted to publicly.

According to the Times, Facebook afforded certain partners special privilege to bypass standard privacy measures.

For example, Facebook revealed the names of "virtually all" users' friends to Microsoft's Bing search engine without consent, while Netflix and Spotify were granted access to private messages. Through their friends, users' names and contact information were provided to Amazon as Yahoo was able to view their posts, the report said.

The in-depth expose offers further insight and evidence pertaining to data sharing deals Facebook reached with some 60 smartphone manufacturers including Apple and Samsung.

In June, the publication said Facebook granted third-party access to users' personal data prior to the rollout of official Facebook apps for iOS and Android. At the time, Apple said it "relied on private access to Facebook data for features that enabled users to post photos to the social network without opening the Facebook app, among other things." The Cupertino tech giant ended the partnership last September.

Today's report adds to those claims, saying Facebook allowed Apple devices to obfuscate indicators that they were asking for personal data. Additionally, Apple devices were able to access the contact numbers and calendar entries of users who disabled sharing in Facebook's account settings, the report said.

Apple appears to have been unaware of the situation.

Responding to the new findings, Apple officials told the Times they did not know of the "special access" Facebook granted to its devices, adding that shared data stayed on a user's device and was not available to others.

Apple's statement toes the company line on user privacy and attempts to distance the tech giant from Facebook's questionable data sharing policies. CEO Tim Cook offered similar sentiment when asked about Apple's relationship with Facebook in June.

"The things mentioned in the Times article about relationship statuses and all these kinds of stuff, this is so foreign to us, and not data that we have ever received at all or requested — zero," Cook said at the time.

Update: Netflix clarified its partnership with Facebook in a statement to AppleInsider.

"Over the years we have tried various ways to make Netflix more social. One example of this was a feature we launched in 2014 that enabled members to recommend TV shows and movies to their Facebook friends via Messenger or Netflix. It was never that popular so we shut the feature down in 2015," a company representative said. "At no time did we access people's private messages on Facebook, or ask for the ability to do so."