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Report: Facebook Underreported Amount Of User Data Third Parties Had Access To


Facebook has drawn criticism for failing to protect users' privacy. Now, The New York Times is reporting that the social media giant allowed third parties access to users' personal data, largely without their consent. Joining us to talk more about this is Gabe Dance. he's one of the authors of today's report. Good morning, Gabe.

GABE DANCE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

KING: So really blockbuster reporting in the Times this morning. What are the new allegations exactly?

DANCE: So we have acquired a set of documents that date to 2010 and run through 2017 that show a large list of companies that Facebook has given special access to users' information.

KING: And what kind of access are they giving? What kind of data is being shared?

DANCE: Right. So, for example, Facebook allowed Microsoft's Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users' friends without consent. They gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users' private messages. Amazon was able to obtain names and contact information through friends, which it was supposed to not be able to do. Yahoo still had access to users' posts despite them no longer needing that for over five years. So it's a long list.

KING: Gabe, can you explain, is it unusual for Facebook to have shared the data of its users with other large companies?

DANCE: It's not necessarily unusual, but there are a few key differences that's important. One is that Facebook has for - since it began, talked about how they protect your data. They've built their company on this idea that you're sharing data with your friends, and it's only with your friends. And then they've started to expand the definition of your friends basically without telling you to the point where, now, your friends include companies like Amazon and Yahoo and Netflix and some of the other ones.

KING: And I'm not aware of that is the deal.

DANCE: That's the second rub, which is that, generally, people are not aware of any of this. And, in fact, it looks like Facebook has clearly taken steps to make sure that that's the case.

KING: Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, testified before Congress in April. He said, quote, "we don't sell data to anyone." Obviously, this is not the sale of data. How are Facebook and Zuckerberg responding to your reporting so far?

DANCE: Well, Facebook has interest in making sure - Facebook had to enter into a 2011 consent agreement with the federal government, and that was for deceptive practices. So Facebook has a lot on the line here. And what they're interested in doing is explaining these relationships as being OK because they say these companies acted as service providers, which is to say they acted as Facebook itself. Now, that is a confusing argument on its face. And it's an argument that is important to them, again, because of this federal agreement.

But basically, they're trying to say, look, all of these people are essentially acting as Facebook itself, and therefore we're not exempting them from any privacy things because how could we exempt ourselves from privacy things? The challenge with that is convincing their users that BlackBerry, Yahoo, Apple and et cetera are Facebook as well.

KING: Sounds like it's going to be a fairly hard sell. Gabe Dance of The New York Times, thanks so much.

DANCE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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