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Facebook gave 61 companies, including Airtel and Saavn, special, six-month access to user data

Sindhu Kashyap
3rd Jul 2018
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New written submissions by networking giant to US Congress reveal that Saavn and Airtel were among the companies that Facebook allowed access to widely blocked user data. 

Facebook has, in written responses to the US Congress on its operations, stated that it gave 61 businesses, including Nike, Spotify, UPS, and Hinge, special rights to access user data after blocking this access more broadly. Two Indian companies - music-streaming app Saavn and telecom firm Airtel - were among the several companies that signed data sharing agreements with the social networking giant or had a one-time exemption for data access.

Since inception, Facebook has allowed third-party apps like Saavn to access - said to be with consent - wide-ranging data about friends of users who signed up for the service. This data access was, however, blocked from 2015. Yet, Saavn and the other firms were given extra time to become compliant with the social networking giant’s restrictive API policy and new rules around data privacy and prevent abuse. Why these particular companies were singled out and given one-time exemption is not known.

According to media reports, the Valley-based social networking giant has disclosed two groups of deals, with separate permissions and restrictions.  Facebook has also emphasised that any information required consent, not only of the app user but that of the friends whose data would be accessed, with their privacy setting to set to permit other third-party apps. 

Mark Zuckerberg at the European Parliament hearing

 But the views are varied. The New York Times has reported that some of these agreements also allowed companies to access data of user’s friends without declaration or explicit consent. 

Facebook has been facing a tough time since the Cambridge Analytica data scandal broke out. The social networking giant took long to acknowledge the crisis, and even longer to take action. During that time, it shed over 22 percent of its stock and lost over $100 billion in market cap, and brought down other prominent tech stocks.

[Update]: An Airtel spokesperson has commented saying: “The matter pertains to the year 2010 when Airtel was granted access to data by Facebook as an App developer. The project ended in 2013 and so did the access to the data. We confirm that the data was used only for our internal purposes. We take data privacy extremely seriously and follow a zero tolerance policy on the same.”

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