In a long, detailed response to more than 1,000 questions from members of Congress about the company’s privacy and data collection policies, Facebook officials said the firm had shared some detailed user information with 52 integration partners over the last several years.
Facebook had special partnerships with these companies, which included Apple, Amazon, Huawei, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Samsung among many others, in order to allow them to “build integrations for a variety of devices, operating systems and other products where we and our partners wanted to offer people a way to receive Facebook or Facebook experiences”, the company said. As part of that integration work, the outside companies sometimes were allowed to access certain kinds of user data, something that drew the attention of lawmakers after media reports in recent weeks.
Facebook said it has has ended 38 of the 52 integration partnerships and plans to end several more in the coming months. In its response to questions from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Facebook said that the partnerships were meant to be a way to allow people to access the site’s content in as many ways as possible. “The partnerships—which we call “integration partnerships”—began before iOS and Android had become the predominant ways people around the world accessed the internet on their mobile phones. People went online using a wide variety of text-only phones, feature phones, and early smartphones with varying capabilities,” the company’s response says.
“In that environment, the demand for internet services like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube outpaced our industry's ability to build versions of our services that worked on every phone and operating system. As a solution, internet companies often engaged device manufacturers and other partners to build ways for people to access their experiences on a range of devices and products.”
Complicating matters is the consent decree that Facebook signed in 2011 with the Federal Trade Commission.
The existence of the partnerships and the revelation that the manufacturers were able to get access to some limited user information drew the ire of privacy advocates and refocused Capitol Hill’s attention on Facebook, which already has been under scrutiny by Congress and federal agencies for privacy issuers. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced hours of questions earlier this year from Congress about the company’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica and how the latter company used Facebook users’ data.
That scandal and the ensuing reports of Facebook’s partnerships with device and operating system manufacturers has again put Facebook in the position of having to defend its practices and policies relating to user privacy and data collection. In its response to the committee’s questions, Facebook said it aims to give users as much control of their privacy and data as possible.
“Privacy is at the core of everything we do, and our approach to privacy starts with our commitment to transparency and control—to helping people understand how their data is collected and used, and to giving them meaningful controls. Our approach to control is based on the belief that people should be able to choose who can see what they share and how their data shapes their experience on Facebook and should have control over all data collection and uses that are not necessary to provide and secure our service,” the company said.
Complicating matters is the consent decree that Facebook signed in 2011 with the Federal Trade Commission after the FTC found the company had shared some data with third-party app developers. Under that order, Facebook has to be clear and accurate about the privacy settings and not exceed those user-chosen settings. The company said in its answers to the House committee on June 27 that is has abided by the agreement.
“Facebook accurately represented the operation of its developer Platform and the circumstances under which people could share data (including friends data) with developers, honored the restrictions of all privacy settings that covered developer access to data, and implemented a comprehensive privacy program built on industry-leading controls and principles, which has undergone ongoing review by an independent assessor approved by the FTC,” the company said.