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Facebook once again faces criminal probe of data deals with major tech companies
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Facebook once again faces criminal probe of data deals with major tech companies

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NEW YORK – March 14, 2019

Facebook seems to compromise itself more and more every month, giving users more and more reasons to abandon Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild. 

Since 2011, Facebook has been operating a two-factor authentication system, with another authorization step beyond the login and password, with users receives a unique code via SMS. Enabling this option is voluntary, but in fact, is coercive. You can refuse it, but then the social network will tire you with reminders of a potential account hacking. Facebook is especially aggressively begging for phone numbers from moderators of large communities.

The administration of the social network has introduced this option not only for the sake of security. In September of last year, researchers from the Northeastern University of Boston found out that Facebook uses phone numbers for targeted advertising. A few days ago, TechCrunch reporters noticed that if you link the number to your account, it will be known to the entire internet. It turns out that by default, Facebook exposes privacy settings so that any user can be found by his phone number, which makes you more visible to potential advertisers.

The saddest thing in this story is that the user cannot prevent Facebook from showing his number. You can only limit the number of people who can find you by number, to "friends" or "friends of friends."

And now a “bomb” has been dropped by Wall Street Journal journalists who found out that Zuckerberg’s social network was “vacuuming” data not only from Facebook, but also from random mobile apps that synchronize with social networks. Moreover, the data is quite intimate: Health parameters, indicators of training, stages of pregnancy, and beyond.

Application developers often use, among other things, sets of tools from Facebook.  For example, a user can quickly log into the application using his social network account. These very pieces of Facebook almost always send different information to Zuckerberg’s servers. Even if the user of the utility is not registered on the social network, it still starts a "case" on him, in case he joins Zuckerberg's "family" later. 

Approximately 18% of all iOS applications and 25% of Android programs are Facebook spies. For example, the application Instant Heart Rate: HR Minor to measure heart rate, as shown by the experiment of journalists, sends information about human health to the social network within seconds after launching. Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker is a feminine calendar that transfers data to Zuckerberg about users’ days of ovulation and menstruation. After an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, the developers ended their partnership with Facebook. Fitness utility BetterMe transfers training results and data on the weight and height of each client. It should be noted that the listed services have millions of downloads on iOS alone. And yes, the mentioned programs are not all Facebook snitches. How many of them there are is actually hard to say. However, in the sample of 70 iOS applications, journalists found 11 "spies.”

Setting up an ideal advertisement for each user is not the only way to monetize personal data. The company also actively shares the collected information about people with other IT corporations.

At the end of last year, the New York Times published a gigantic investigation proving that since 2010, Facebook has secretly signed contracts with about 150 large IT companies. These agreements imply access of partners to a huge array of user data collected by the social network.

In September 2018, the company itself announced that its data from 50 million users had been stolen because of a vulnerability in the "View as" function, which shows how your page is seen by other users. The bug was quite serious: Attackers could completely take control of someone else's account. Later, Facebook found out that the leak touched not 50 million people, but "only" 30. But that didn't make it any easier. From half of the victims, hackers stole basic information such as e-mail addresses and phone numbers. The second half was less fortunate: Hackers found the gender, age, language, marital status, religious views, place of birth, place of residence, position at work, and more, of 14 million users, thanks to the social network.

In December 2018, another leak broke out. Smaller, but still unpleasant. Due to a bug in the developer tools, 876 programmers gained access to all photos of nearly seven million users. The most annoying thing is that the social network has even leaked those images that people simply loaded into the dialog box but did not send. For example, someone wanted to send an intimate photo, but at the last moment changed his mind. Well, Facebook still has It.

And yesterday, the New York Times reported that US prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into Facebook’s practice of sharing users’ data with companies without letting the social network’s members know.

According to the Times, a grand jury in New York has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices, according to two people who were familiar with the requests and who insisted on anonymity to discuss confidential legal matters. Both companies had entered into partnerships with Facebook, gaining broad access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of its users.

The companies were among more than 150, including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Sony, that had cut sharing deals with the world’s dominant social media platform. The agreements, previously reported in the New York Times, let the companies see users’ friends, contact information, and other data, sometimes without consent. Facebook has phased out most of the partnerships over the past two years.

Regulators, investigators, and elected officials around the world have already been digging into the data sharing practices of Facebook which has more than two billion users.

The social network’s handling of user data has been a flashpoint for controversy since it admitted last year that Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, used an app that may have hijacked the private details of 87 million users.

“It has already been reported that there are ongoing federal investigations, including by the Department of Justice,” a Facebook spokesman said.

“As we’ve said before, we are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously. We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged that we will continue to do so.”

Facebook has shared limited amounts of user data with smartphone makers and other outside partners to enable its services to work well on devices or with applications.

Regulators, and now prosecutors, appear intent on determining whether this was done in ways that let users know what was happening and protected privacy.

In public statements, Facebook executives had said that Cambridge told the company it was gathering data only for academic purposes. But the fine print accompanying a quiz app that collected the information said it could also be used commercially. Selling user data would have violated Facebook’s rules at the time, yet the social network does not appear to have regularly checked that apps were complying. Facebook deleted the quiz app in December 2015.

The disclosures about Cambridge last year thrust Facebook into the worst crisis of its history. Then came news reports last June and December that Facebook had given business partners — including makers of smartphones, tablets and other devices — deep access to users’ personal information, letting some companies effectively override users’ privacy settings.

The California-based social network has announced a series of moves to tighten handling of data, including eliminating most of its data-sharing partnerships with outside companies.

The focus of the grand jury probe was not clear, nor was when it started, according to the Times, which cited unnamed sources.

A spokesman for the United States Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York said he could not confirm or deny the probe.

As reported by NEWSONE earlier, a large-scale failure with both Facebook and Instagram occurred on Wednesday, March 13.

Author: USA Really