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Facebook explains why the scandal over third-party access to private messages is overblown

Published Dec 20th, 2018 10:35AM EST
Facebook Messages
Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

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At this point, Facebook probably can’t wait for 2018 to be over and done with. Earlier in the year, the social networking giant was riding high: revenue was increasing at a rapid clip and the company’s stock price was hitting all-time highs. But in what seemed like an instant, Facebook lost a good amount of public goodwill when the full scope of the Cambridge Analytica scandal began to emerge a few months back. Ever since then, Facebook has seemingly been on the defensive.

Unfortunately for Facebook, the company appears to be fighting a growing number of battles on many fronts these days. The latest scandal to hit Facebook comes in the form of a new New York Times expose which alleged that third-party companies like Netflix and Spotify had read/write access to ostensibly private user messages. Addressing the matter, Facebook VP of Product Partnerships Ime Archibong penned a blog post explaining what exactly happened and why.

First things first, it’s worth noting that the NYT scoop pertains to actions Facebook took years ago. In other words, Facebook users today have nothing to worry about as it pertains to the actions detailed in the NYT piece. With that caveat out of the way, Archibong explains that all of the hoopla stems from its efforts to enable Facebook users to message each other from within other platforms.

“People could message their friends about what they were listening to on Spotify or watching on Netflix, share folders on Dropbox, or get receipts from money transfers through the Royal Bank of Canada app,” the post reads in part. “These experiences were publicly discussed. And they were clear to users and only available when people logged into these services with Facebook. However, they were experimental and have now been shut down for nearly three years.

That’s all well and good, but what about the read/write access that has some people flipping their lid? Well, to that point, Facebook insinuates that everything has been blown out of proportion.

Specifically, we made it possible for people to message their friends what music they were listening to in Spotify or watching on Netflix directly from the Spotify or Netflix apps (see screen shots below), to message links to Dropbox folders (like a collection of photographs) from the Dropbox app…

In order for you to write a message to a Facebook friend from within Spotify, for instance, we needed to give Spotify “write access.” For you to be able to read messages back, we needed Spotify to have “read access.” “Delete access” meant that if you deleted a message from within Spotify, it would also delete from Facebook.

More than that, and this is the main takeaway from the blog post, is that Facebook emphatically states that no third-party was reading private messages or anything of the like. From Facebook’s vantage point — and though some might reasonably disagree — this entire saga has been blown way out of proportion.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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