‘We Are the Product’: Facebook Sold Your Data Then Lied to You About It

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Facebook HQ - Sputnik International
A damning report by the New York Times Tuesday found that, despite its claims to the contrary, Facebook has been making money by giving other companies much more access to its 2.2 billion users’ data than it let on.

Facebook founder, chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress in April, "We don't sell data to anyone," but Radio Sputnik's Loud and Clear spoke with web developer and technologist Chris Garaffa, who said that was simply "a legal workaround to the fact that what they sell is access to data."

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The deals hammered out between Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies beginning in 2010 gave partners access to far more data than Cambridge Analytica, even after 2014, which is when Facebook said its privacy policy had changed, denying companies the kind of access Cambridge Analytica had used to accumulate information on 87 million people, the vast majority of whom were third-party users who were never even given a chance to consent to the disclosures.

In turn, those companies sold that information to advertisers, and Facebook expanded ads on the social network at the same time as it was undergoing a massive expansion in user numbers.

In other words, Facebook sold your personal information, made a ton of money and lied to you about the whole affair.

Facebook maintains that the data sharing doesn't violate its 2011 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission about user consent, claiming an exemption, but the FTC has so far not spoken on whether or not it agrees.

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The NYT investigation found that Facebook shared data with more than 150 companies, some of which had access to user data even if the user had disabled the sharing of that data. The Times notes that after a few years, Facebook began to lose track of all the deals it had signed and built a specific tool to track the different types of access each partner had. But even then, it lost track of some of them, with Yahoo retaining the ability to access data on close to 100,000 people a month, even after the company removed a feature that displayed Facebook users' news feeds in its search results.

"According to Facebook, each of the outside companies acted as an extension of the social network," the article says. "Any information a user shared with friends on Facebook, the company argues, could be shared with these partner companies without additional consent."

Companies like Microsoft and Amazon collected data on hundreds of millions of Facebook users a month, including email addresses and phone numbers, without the knowledge or consent of the people whose information they were collecting.

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And while Facebook lied to its users about what it was doing, the FTC knew all about it. Beginning in 2011, the FTC received biennial audits of Facebook's privacy procedures from independent firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The Times notes that these reports detailed "that Facebook had done little to ensure that the shared data was appropriately safeguarded."

Radio Sputnik's Loud and Clear spoke with Garaffa Wednesday about the revelations.


​"They know that their PR, that their position in terms of public relations, is awful. They know people are watching them. They know that every story that comes out like this is going to drive users away, and we are the product, in terms of Facebook."

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Garaffa recalled the documents leaked by British parliamentarian Damian Collins earlier this month that revealed high-level debates within Facebook, including on how to handle users' data.

The 250-page cache shows that "in 2013 Facebook was very aware that a certain change to the permissions it got, asking for permission to read your text messages and call logs, would not be accepted by Facebook users, that they would be scared off by that. So they found a way around asking you explicitly for that permission and still got it," Garaffa told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou.

"This isn't just Facebook, this is Facebook partnering with the giants of Silicon Valley. It's Amazon, Google, Microsoft, all of these other giant companies. So again, not just Facebook, they're making these partnerships, and these other companies know what Facebook's reputation is, and in their internal documents they say, like, ‘We want access, and if you don't give us access to this certain thing, we'll go out of business,' or ‘We can't offer this certain product, or feature in our products,' and Facebook is more than happy to oblige."

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"We have to go back to June of this year, where another New York Times story by these same three journalists reported that Facebook had made deals with 60 device-makers to allow access to Facebook user data on those devices, whether or not you were even using the Facebook app on that phone. So this [has been going on for] a long time, and Facebook is certainly the face of it, and should be, but this is all of Silicon Valley… all of the tech billionaires and related companies and the advertising industry that are complicit in this," Garaffa told Sputnik.

But Garaffa argued that, however much Facebook and other tech companies rationalized these exchanges as mutually beneficial, these transactions benefited "everyone involved in the business transaction except for the users. It doesn't benefit us in any way; it actually impacts us so very negatively to have our privacy violated like this."

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