By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee said on Monday he planned to ask Facebook Inc about a New York Times report that the social media company allowed Apple Inc and other device makers to have “deep” access to users’ personal data without their consent.
The report raises important questions about transparency and potential privacy risks for Facebook users, Senator John Thune said in a statement. “The Commerce Committee will be sending Facebook a letter seeking additional information.”
Facebook shares fell 0.4 percent to close at $193.28 in an overall upbeat day on Wall Street.
The software referred to by the New York Times was launched 10 years ago and used by about 60 companies, including Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc, Blackberry Ltd, HTC Corp, Microsoft Corp and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships Ime Archibong wrote in a blog post.
The Times said Facebook allowed companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders.
Some device makers could retrieve personal information even from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing, the newspaper said.
“Contrary to claims by the New York Times, friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends,” said Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships.
Facebook has been under scrutiny from regulators and shareholders after it failed to protect the data of some 87 million users that was shared with now-defunct political data firm Cambridge Analytica.
Two Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee, Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal, responded to the Times report by writing Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.
“New revelations that Facebook provided access to users’ personal information, including religion, political preferences, and relationship status, to dozens of mobile device manufacturers without users’ explicit consent are deeply concerning,” they said in a letter.
Elena Hernandez, a spokeswoman for House Energy and Commerce committee Chairman Greg Walden, a Republican, called the report “a troubling reminder that the expectations tech companies set for consumer protection sometimes differ from what is actually delivered.”
U.S. Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat, said in a statement it was “deeply concerning that Facebook continues to withhold critical details about the information it has and shares with others.”
The Federal Trade Commission in March confirmed it was investigating Facebook privacy practices.
Archibong also said that these cases were “very different” from the use of data by third party developers in the Cambridge row.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham and Richard Chang)