Social media network giant Facebook, who appears to be in the running for the dubious “honor” of most distrusted corporation ever, has managed to tick off just about everybody.
The platform first angered conservatives when it was revealed that they used algorithms to suppress content along ideological lines, then they angered liberals when it was revealed they shared user data with a third party that may have helped President Donald Trump win the 2016 election — despite there being no outcry when former President Barack Obama similarly exploited user data in 2012.
Now it appears as though Facebook has angered a smaller subset of people — users of Android mobile devices — after it was revealed by a tech journal that the social media platform had collected and archived user’s phone call and text message metadata for years, without the explicit knowledge or permission of users.
According to Ars Technica, an Android user in New Zealand named Dylan McKay (check out the multiple tweets in the comments on the following thread) had discovered two years worth of call and text metadata — including names, numbers, time and duration of calls — when he downloaded an archive of the information Facebook had stored on him.
Downloaded my facebook data as a ZIP file
Somehow it has my entire call history with my partner's mum pic.twitter.com/CIRUguf4vD
— Dylan McKay (@dylanmckaynz) March 21, 2018
The journalist who wrote the article, Sean Gallagher, as well as other Android-equipped Facebook users contacted by Ars who remained unnamed, found similar call and text logs when they checked out their own Facebook info archives.
Without getting too deep into the technical weeds, Ars explained that most apps hosted through Facebook request permission when first installed to access and upload a user’s contact list, ostensibly to better enable finding friends and making connections.
Except that for certain early versions of Android’s operating systems, this access and uploading of contact lists was done by default without explicit permission and with no knowledge of the users. It was noted that Apple’s iOS “has never allowed silent access to call data.”
It was further noted that Facebook provides a means for users to supposedly purge such collected data from their archives, but it was unclear if that purge only amounted to deleting stored contact lists while leaving the metadata in place.
In fact, Gallagher himself attempted to purge his archive of collected data, only to find days later that the stored data could still be found.
The Ars article was updated to include a response from Facebook to this revelation, but their response seemed to contradict the experience of Gallagher, McKay and several others, and also seemed to avoid directly addressing the privacy concerns in regard to their collection and storage of call and text metadata.
“Call and text history logging is part of an opt-in feature for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android,” wrote a Facebook spokesperson. “This helps you find and stay connected with the people you care about, and provide you with a better experience across Facebook. People have to expressly agree to use this feature.”
“If, at any time, they no longer wish to use this feature they can turn it off in settings, or here for Facebook Lite users, and all previously shared call and text history shared via that app is deleted,” the spokesperson added. “While we receive certain permissions from Android, uploading this information has always been opt-in only.”
Except that, as mentioned above, it wasn’t exactly “opt-in only” as stated by Facebook, as earlier versions of Android’s operating system featured the “opt-in” as part of their default settings, without the issuance of a separate notification about the data collection.
It should be noted that the newest version of Android’s system no longer does the “opt-in” by default — though some older apps may still do it — and Facebook swears up and down that they keep such metadata secure and would never sell it to third parties.
Then again, a lot of people have reason to doubt Facebook’s word these days, and they still have yet to provide any sort of acceptable reason why they needed to collect and store such information in the first place, as it goes far above and beyond simply trying to “help friends find each other.”
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