An investigation into privacy concerns regarding Facebook revealed internal documents showing the social network shared personal data with companies like Netflix, Microsoft, and Spotify without its users' permission, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The newspaper obtained hundreds of documents in 2017 that exposed the social media giant's data-sharing practices, emphasizing what happens to be the greatest commodity of the digital age: personal data.
The Times called personal data the "oil of the 21st century," and said American companies are expected to spend nearly $20 billion by the end of 2018 for consumer data, citing the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
"Facebook has never sold its user data, fearful of user backlash and wary of handing would-be competitors a way to duplicate its most prized asset. Instead, internal documents show, it did the next best thing: granting other companies access to parts of the social network in ways that advanced its own interests," the Times said.
The social network began its data sharing practices while the company was still young, as founder Mark Zuckerberg was bent on integrating his network with other services to avoid every becoming obsolete.
The partnerships being developed between the company and other tech giants were important, and any decisions about creating them were screened at top levels, sometimes by Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook officials told The Times.
Then in 2008, the social network introduced a controversial data tool for suggesting Facebook friends, called "People You May Know." Facebook obtained the personal contact lists from partners, including Amazon, Yahoo and the Chinese company Huawei, to gain insight into people’s relationships and suggest more connections, the Times reported.
Facebook also allowed certain companies to gain access to private user data even after it said it would take away that power in 2014.
"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 Times wrote.
The social media titan gave Apple access to personal data, and empowered the tech giant to hide from Facebook any indicators that Apple devices were asking for data.
The data access issue was branded by Facebook as an attempt at a better Internet, where users would be able to receive a customized experience through instant personalization. The practice, however, was deemed deceptive after an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission in 2011, and Facebook no longer publicly acknowledged its initiative of instant personalization.
While Facebook said it only allowed companies to access public data, they also included in that the data the company had made public in 2009, which included users’ locations and religious and political leanings, according to the Times.
The investigation comes at a time where Facebook is recovering from a barrage of data privacy scandals. Earlier this year it was reported that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, hired by U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign, used Facebook to obtain the data of tens of millions of users and offered tools that could have influenced the behavior of American voters.
The social network also revealed a bug last week that gave third-party applications access to the photos of 6.8 million users without their permission.