Facebook facing criminal charges over data-sharing with 150 partners

News by Teri Robinson

US Federal prosecutors are reportedly probing Facebook's data sharing partnerships with electronics companies, including smartphone makers, & a grand jury has subpoenaed information from at least two firms.

US Federal prosecutors are reportedly probing Facebook’s data sharing partnerships with electronics companies, including smartphone makers, and a grand jury has subpoenaed information from at least two firms.

The partnerships – with more than 150 companies, according to a report by the New York Times – made it possible for the partner companies to gain access to Facebook user data.

Last year, in a blog post, Facebook defended sharing user data with at least 60 mobile device manufacturers, in an effort to make its services and experiences available to device owners via integrated APIs.

"Given that these APIs enabled other companies to recreate the Facebook experience, we controlled them tightly from the get-go," Ime Archibong, Facebook’s VP of product partnerships, wrote, explaining that mobile device manufacturers are considered trusted partners who essentially act as extensions of Facebook.

"These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences. Partners could not integrate the user’s Facebook features with their devices without the user’s permission. And our partnership and engineering teams approved the Facebook experiences these companies built."

But some believe Facebook’s legal comeuppance is long overdue. "Anyone who has illegally trafficked in personal data – or failed to report the loss of it – should face criminal charges," said Shane Green, the CEO of digi.me and co-founder and chair of UBDI who claims that Facebook has done both. "Their business model makes it hard for them to know the difference."

Green said it should come as no surprise that the social media giant is under investigation. "It’s high time government authorities held them accountable," he said.

Attila Tomaschek digital privacy expert at BestVPN.com emailed SC Media UK to comment, "With all of the privacy scandals swirling around the social network lately, a criminal investigation was likely to emerge at some point. The data sharing practices conducted by Facebook with its approximately 150 partner companies exhibited gross mismanagement and excessive over sharing of user data.
 
"Many have already been accusing Facebook of violating its 2011 settlement with the FTC in which the company agreed to obtain proper user consent prior to sharing their data in a manner that goes beyond the user’s established privacy preferences on the site. Facebook officials claim they didn’t violate the terms of the settlement because the partner companies were acting as service providers and essentially as extensions of the social network.
 
"Despite this, Facebook’s data sharing practices did indeed appear to be both underhanded and surreptitious, but whether that will translate into a criminal liability for the company remains to be seen. Either way, it seems that Facebook won’t see the back of this data sharing controversy as easily as it may have hoped."
This article was originally published on SC Media US.

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