Sometimes it can be shocking when one online platform seems to really know a lot about you, and other times it’s not shocking whatsoever because it turns out that Facebook is just an open fucking door and anyone can just take whatever information they want from it in the name of, say, the Trump campaign or—as The New York Times just discovered—Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, Yahoo, and Bing. Yes, Bing! The dumb search engine that is only ever used ironically had access to some of the information you’re stupid enough to put on Facebook. (Yes, Facebook is a nightmare company, but at a certain point you have to own some of the responsibility for the information you give it.)
According to that New York Times report, Facebook had “special arrangements” with big tech companies that essentially allowed them to sidestep the regular privacy rules. For example, Facebook allowed Bing to “see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent,” it allowed Amazon to obtain names and contact information through users’ friends, it allowed Yahoo to view users’ friends’ posts “as recently as this summer” (despite claiming it had stopped that practice), and—best of all—it allowed Netflix and Spotify to read users’ private messages.
Facebook says it hasn’t found any evidence that these companies (of which there are more than 150) actually abused these powers, with Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo specifically only using the data “appropriately,” but Facebook’s definition of what is appropriate is absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, completely different from what most people would consider appropriate. The one thing that it will admit to is that some of these special deals continued long after they should’ve, which is like noticing you left your neighbor’s door unlocked after you let in the burglar who took their stereo.
The social media site tried to justify this practice by saying that these other companies were simply acting as extensions of Facebook itself, since users could log on to Netflix or Bing with their Facebook account to tie their searches or streams to their profile. That’s absurd, and The New York Times spoke to several former FTC employees who believe that this scam was a violation of Facebook’s agreement not to do anything with user data without user consent. But hey, there’s nothing to worry about, because these companies are all totally trustworthy and the’ve all said they didn’t do anything bad with this data. Netflix in particular seems to think the whole thing is pretty funny, cracking a “slide into your DMs joke on Twitter”:
Here’s some more hip lingo you can use, Netflix: Delete your account! (Har har.) Netflix later released a more professional statement, saying it never accessed anyone’s private messages or specifically asked for the ability to do so, and it ended its Facebook partnership in 2015 after a year because “it was never that popular.” Anyway, this latest Facebook bullshit comes almost exactly a month after Facebook celebrated Thanksgiving by quietly admitting to hiring a research firm that paid a right-wing news site to publish anti-Semitic stories about Facebook critic George Soros.
So yeah, they’re running a real tight ship over there.