Facebook kept sharing users' friend data in special deals, report says

The deals extended access for some companies after Facebook cut off most app developers in 2015, The Wall Street Journal reports.

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Laura Hautala
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Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's annual developer conference, F8, in 2015. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the company made deals with a small group of companies to keep giving them access to its users' friends' data in 2015, even after cutting other developers off.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook stopped letting other companies access your friends' data in 2015 -- right?

That's what Facebook said in March, after the social media giant came under fire for reports it had let third-party developers access data on all of a user's connections. But The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Facebook cut special deals with some companies that let them continue to access data on its users' friends.

Facebook confirmed some companies were allowed to keep accessing the information for a short time. "In 2014, all developers were given a year to switch to the new, more restricted version of the API. A few developers including Nissan and [Royal Bank of Canada] asked for a short extension -- and those extensions ended several years ago," Ime Archibong, vice president of product partnerships at Facebook, said in a statement.

The report calls into question Facebook's previous claims that it made changes in 2015 to stop the kind of data collection that allowed a researcher at the University of Cambridge to collect information on 87 million Facebook users. The researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, recruited about 200,000 people to take a personality quiz through their Facebook accounts and his app collected information on all their friends as well. Kogan then gave that information to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. 

Facebook has faced increased scrutiny for sharing user data with third parties since the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light, which intensified earlier this week when The New York Times reported that Facebook had shared user data with device manufacturers. That included Huawei, a Chinese phone manufacturer that's been flagged by US intelligence agencies as a national security threat.

Facebook's Archibong reiterated in his statement Friday that the company is winding down these agreements. Archibong also said that, other than the extensions it gave to some companies, Facebook didn't enter into new deals that allowed companies broad access to data from a user's friends.

"Any new 'deals', as the Journal describes them, involved people's ability to share their broader friends' lists -- not their friends' private information like photos or interests -- with apps under the more restricted version of the API," Archibong said.

First published June 8, 3:47 p.m. PT
Update, 5:41 p.m.: Adds comments from Facebook.

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