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As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants

Internal documents show that the social network gave Microsoft, Amazon, Spotify and others far greater access to people’s data than it has disclosed.

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

Facebook has been reeling from a series of privacy scandals, set off by revelations in March that a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, improperly used Facebook data to build tools that aided President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Acknowledging that it had breached users’ trust, Facebook insisted that it had instituted stricter privacy protections long ago. Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, assured lawmakers in April that people “have complete control” over everything they share on Facebook.

[Facebook’s strategy in times of crisis: delay, deny and deflect.]

Facebook began forming data partnerships when it was still a relatively young company. Mr. Zuckerberg was determined to weave Facebook’s services into other sites and platforms, believing it would stave off obsolescence and insulate Facebook from competition. Every corporate partner that integrated Facebook data into its online products helped drive the platform’s expansion, bringing in new users, spurring them to spend more time on Facebook and driving up advertising revenue. At the same time, Facebook got critical data back from its partners.

The partnerships were so important that decisions about forming them were vetted at high levels, sometimes by Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, Facebook officials said. While many of the partnerships were announced publicly, the details of the sharing arrangements typically were confidential.

Facebook also allowed Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada to read, write and delete users’ private messages, and to see all participants on a thread — privileges that appeared to go beyond what the companies needed to integrate Facebook into their systems, the records show. Facebook acknowledged that it did not consider any of those three companies to be service providers. Spokespeople for Spotify and Netflix said those companies were unaware of the broad powers Facebook had granted them. A spokesman for Netflix said Wednesday that it had used the access only to enable customers to recommend TV shows and movies to their friends.

A Royal Bank of Canada spokesman disputed that the bank had had any such access. (Aspects of some sharing partnerships, including those with the Royal Bank of Canada and Bing, were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.)

Spotify, which could view messages of more than 70 million users a month, still offers the option to share music through Facebook Messenger. But Netflix and the Canadian bank no longer needed access to messages because they had deactivated features that incorporated it.

These were not the only companies that had special access longer than they needed it. Yahoo, The Times and others could still get Facebook users’ personal information in 2017.

Yahoo could view real-time feeds of friends’ posts for a feature that the company had ended in 2012. A Yahoo spokesman declined to discuss the partnership in detail but said the company did not use the information for advertising. The Times — one of nine media companies named in the documents — had access to users’ friend lists for an article-sharing application it had discontinued in 2011. A spokeswoman for the news organization said it was not obtaining any data.

Facebook’s internal records also revealed more about the extent of sharing deals with over 60 makers of smartphones, tablets and other devices, agreements first reported by The Times in June.

Facebook empowered Apple to hide from Facebook users all indicators that its devices were asking for data. Apple devices also had access to the contact numbers and calendar entries of people who had changed their account settings to disable all sharing, the records show.

Apple officials said they were not aware that Facebook had granted its devices any special access. They added that any shared data remained on the devices and was not available to anyone other than the users.

MIT scientists use radio waves to sense human emotions

Emphasis added:

“Researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a device that uses radio waves to detect whether someone is happy, sad, angry or excited.

The breakthrough makes it easier to accomplish what scientists have tried to do for years with machines: sense human emotions. The researchers believe tracking a person’s feelings is a step toward improving their overall emotional well-being.

The technology isn’t invasive [?]; it works in the background without a person having to do anything, like wearing a device. The device called EQ-Radio, which was detailed in a paper published online Tuesday, resembles a shoebox, as of now. In the future, it may shrink down and integrate with an existing computing gadget in your home.

It works by bouncing wireless signals off a person. These signals are impacted by motion, such as breathing and heartbeats. When the heart pumps blood, a force is exerted onto our bodies, and the skin vibrates ever so slightly.

After the radio waves are impacted by these vibrations, they return to the device. A computer then analyzes the signals to identify changes in heartbeat and breathing.

The researchers demonstrated their system detects emotions on par with an electrocardiogram (EKG), a common wearable device medical professionals use to monitor the human heart.

When our Televisions Watch Us

“George Orwell would be proud. Earlier this week Propublica discovered that more than 10 million Vizio televisions silently record what their owners are watching and send a live-stream of their viewing habits to a commercial company that uses it to profile them. Most disturbingly, Vizio ties this viewing information to the user’s IP address, allowing their offline interests to be used to target them with advertisements in the online world.

According to Vizio, the company uses this information to offer advertisers “highly specific viewing behavior data on a massive scale with great accuracy” thatrepresents a “revolutionary shift across all screens that brings measurability, relevancy and personalization to the consumer like never before.” Security vendor Avast published an analysis on Wednesday that dissects the data stream Vizio sends back, showing that it is essentially a low-resolution screen capture taken at regular intervals of whatever is on the screen at that moment.

Yet, for all of the uproar this discovery has caused, it is just part of a broader trend of humans being intricately profiled through the digital trails they leave. Hospitals and insurance companies are beginning to explore using public records and credit card purchase data to determine how healthy you are being in your daily life. For example, buying a pack of cigarettes at the gas station, buying donuts on the way home, stopping off at a fast food restaurant for lunch, or letting your gym membership lapse could all be reported back to your doctor and potentially used to increase your insurance rates.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Another surveillance app for parents

“When Matthew Whisker picks his children up from their north shore childcare centre he doesn’t automatically have to ask how their day went – he already knows.

The Neutral Bay father has an app which alerts him to the daily activities and achievements of his children Harry, 11 months, and Lulu, five, almost immediately via his smart phone.

The app is being trialled in three Sydney centres operated by Only About Children, with plans to roll it out more widely later this year. Victoria’s Woodland Education has developed a similar app which also alerts parents to the real-time minutiae and milestones of their children’s lives, including what they had for lunch and if they soiled their nappies.

But experts have questioned whether young children need to have their lives documented in such detail and how it might affect normal interactions between parents, kids and carers.

Only About Children’s chief operations officer, Kathryn Hutchins, said the group, which has 31 centres in NSW, Victoria and Queensland, developed the app in response to parental demand.

‘‘We want to capture the moments working parents may want to see but don’t have the opportunity to because they are at work,’’ she said. ‘‘For example, if your child is just learning to walk, there will be a photo that shows that activity.’’

Educators carry a small handset tablet, photographing the children and writing short descriptions of what they are doing before uploading the content. The parent then gets a push notification, alerting them to the status update.”