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New report says Facebook collected call and text data from Android users

The Associated Press \[Oct-25-2016\]
The Associated Press \[Oct-25-2016\]
Richard Drew, AP

A new report from Ars Technica found that Facebook has been collecting call and text data from Android phone users for years.

A number of Android and Facebook users spoke to Ars Technica about discovering that the call and text data was surreptitiously collected after they downloaded their data archive from Facebook.

Dylan McKay shared a photo of his Facebook data history, which included information about text and call history.

Currently, Facebook will ask you for access to your contacts when you first download the app, or associated apps like Facebook Messenger or Facebook Lite for Android.

The apps then ask if they can access your call and SMS logs, too.

However, “in the past, Android users may have given Facebook access to this data unknowingly, as a result of the way Android dealt with asking permission for call logs,” Quartz reported.

Before Android updated its software in 2012, Android users handed over call and text data when they shared access to phone contacts with Facebook. So “when an Android user gave Facebook access to phone contacts, Facebook also got access to actual call and text data by default," according to Quartz.

Facebook responded to the report in a public statement over the weekend.

“You may have seen some recent reports that Facebook has been logging people’s call and SMS (text) history without their permission. This is not the case,” the statement read.

In the statement, Facebook said that Android users have to opt-in to share call and text history when they download Facebook Messenger or Facebook Lite for Android.

“When this feature is enabled, uploading your contacts also allows us to use information like when a call or text was made or received,” the company said. “This feature does not collect the content of your calls or text messages. Your information is securely stored and we do not sell this information to third parties.”

According to Facebook, Android users can turn this feature off at any time, which would then delete call and text history from their Facebook data.

But “it’s not clear when this prompt started appearing in relation to the historical data gathering, and whether it has simply been opt-in the whole time,” according to The Verge. “Either way, it’s clearly alarmed some who have found call history data stored on Facebook’s servers."

Facebook didn’t reveal “why it needs the data or what it uses it for,” The Verge reported.

Ars Technica later updated its report with Facebook’s response, saying that the statement “contradicts several details Ars found in analysis of Facebook data downloads and testimony from users who provided the data.”

This appears to only apply to Android users. Apple allows some apps to access call and SMS data, but that’s only when users enabled them “through a process that’s similar to enabling third-party keyboards,” according to The Verge.

The recent report on Android users comes during the same week that Facebook has dealt with an ongoing controversy with Cambridge Analytica, which obtained personal information data for 50 million people.

As Wired reported, researcher Aleksandr Kogan used a personality quiz app to obtain data from Facebook users. He later sold the data to Cambridge Analytica, a data company that has been linked to President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apologized over the incident in an interview with CNN.

“So this was a major breach of trust and I'm really sorry that this happened,” he said. “You know we have a basic responsibility to protect people's data and if we can't do that then we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve people. So our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn't happen again.”