In a year full of Facebook controversies, some of the naughty things the social network did have been lost in the noise. While the news has been dominated by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, some other issues passed with less outrage. However, Facebook's decision to data scrape Android users is definitely outrageous.
Earlier this year, we reported the company had data scraped call and text information for Android users. Facebook quickly denied it was doing this and quickly rolled out new privacy features to appease suspecting eyes.
Those privacy changes allowed users on Android and iOS to give Facebook permission (or restrict it) from messages and contacts.
However, a UK government investigation shows Facebook did slurp data. Not only that, the company knew it was likely to cause outrage amongst users but decided to do it anyway:
“Facebook knew that the changes to its policies on the Android mobile phone system, which enabled the Facebook app to collect a record of calls and texts sent by the user would be controversial,” a summary of the documents written by Damian Collins, Conversative MP and Chairman of the Digital Culture, Media and Science Committee who published the documents, reads. “To mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard of possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app.”
Facebook as always insisted it asked users for permission before accessing data. However, plenty of Android users report they have never been asked. Facebook insists is never sells user data and it does not collect content of calls and messages.
The company's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg attempted to explain the situation and suggested Facebook's motives have been misunderstood:
“I understand there is a lot of scrutiny on how we run our systems. That's healthy given the vast number of people who use our services around the world. And it is right that we are constantly asked to explain what we do. But it's also important that the coverage of what we do — including the explanation of these internal documents — doesn't misrepresent our actions or motives.”