Report: Facebook Gave Netflix and Others Access to Personal User Data

Facebook reportedly gave tech companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft and music streaming service Spotify, secret access to personal user data — despite claims to the contrary by founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

In a Dec. 18 story, The New York Times — citing internal documents and interviews with staffers — reported that Facebook allegedly gave Netflix the ability to view Facebook users’ private text messages, while affording Microsoft’s Bing search engine access to Facebook users’ names and other information without their consent.

Indeed, beginning in 2013, Netflix enabled subscribers to recommend movies and TV shows to their Facebook friends through the latter’s Messenger platform. The campaign was designed to upgrade Netflix’s social media status despite some privacy concerns.

A provision in user privacy guidelines mandated in 2011 by the Federal Trade Commission recognizes Facebook’s “service providers” — such as Netflix — as an extension of the company, thereby allowing them easier pathways to share user data.

Netflix, which claims it wasn’t aware of the provision, said it ended the “Netflix Social” option in 2015.

“It was never that popular,” the SVOD pioneer said in a statement to The Wrap. “At no time did we access people’s private messages on Facebook or ask for the ability to do so.”

Regardless, the Times story underscores the value personal data has to marketers reflecting consumer habits in the digital age. It also exposes how indifferent Facebook has been to manipulating user data for financial gain. The revelation would appear to undermine Congressional testimony in April by Zuckerberg that Facebook users remain in control of their personal data.

That testimony came following disclosure the social media giant had given access to user data of 87 million Facebook members to Cambridge Analytica, the British consulting firm accused of manipulating user data to benefit President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

Facebook contends it has operated in accordance with its own and federal user privacy guidelines.

“We know we’ve got work to do to regain people’s trust,” Steve Satterfield, director of privacy and public policy at Facebook, told the Times. “Protecting people’s information requires stronger teams, better technology and clearer policies, and that’s where we’ve been focused for most of 2018.”