Facebook: Investigators investigate controversial data deals

For about 150 years, Facebook has granted far-reaching access to user data. Now a grand jury in New York determines.

US investigators are investigating agreements Facebook has made with major tech companies. As the New York Times reports, a New York Grand Jury has invited at least two well-known smart phone and other device manufacturers in subpoenas to disclose deals about the deals that revolved around user data.

The two companies are therefore among the more than 150 companies that have agreed special partnerships with Facebook, which gave them far-reaching access to information about Facebook users than other companies. Especially tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix or Spotify, but also automakers and media companies are said to have been Facebook's deal partners.

For example, sharing data with companies such as Amazon, Yahoo, and Huawei helped Facebook improve the "people you know" feature by suggesting Facebook friends.

Microsoft's search engine Bing is said to have allowed Facebook to read out the names of all Facebook friends without the explicit consent of users. And partners like Netflix and Spotify were supposed to be able to access private messages, Yahoo was able to evaluate the posts of friends of Facebook users.

To what extent the special rights were used in practice is unclear. For example, Netflix told SPIEGEL: "At no time did we access or request personal information from anyone on Facebook."

Win-win deal

Money brought the deals apparently not Facebook. However, both sides benefited from the so-called tracking partnerships, which were to the detriment of users' privacy: "In search of explosive growth, Facebook got more users and increased its advertising revenue," wrote the New York Times, the data deals Revealed in late 2018. "Partner companies were given features that made their products more attractive."

The first partnerships were completed in 2010, some were still active last year. However, Facebook has phased out most New York Times partnerships over the past two years. The users were not informed about their full extent until the announcement of the data deals.

"We're working with the investigators and taking these investigations seriously," it says in a Facebook statement for the "New York Times." Further details of the companies currently under investigation, the duration or the focus of the proceedings are not known, as the Grand Jury evaluates evidence of possible prosecution in camera.

Facebook is also the focus of regulators and investigators for sharing the data of 87 million Facebook users with the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. The tech group is currently negotiating with the US consumer protection agency FTC on a data protection fine of several billion dollars.

ref: spiegel