- Facebook reportedly collects personal information from many popular smartphone apps, even from people who don't have any connection to the social network, The Wall Street Journal reported after testing more than 70 apps in Apple's App store. The mobile apps send the data without prominent disclosures, the publicaton's testing showed.
- Realtor.com, Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker and Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor were among the apps that sent personal information to Facebook, such as data about health, menstrual cycles and real estate searches. Facebook said some of the data sharing may have violated its business terms that tell app developers not to send it "health, financial information or other categories of sensitive information."
- Facebook said it ordered apps studied by the Journal to stop sending information that users might regard as sensitive. The company may take additional action against apps that don't comply, the newspaper reported. In a later article, the Journal said some of the apps featured in its initial story had stopped sharing data with Facebook.
The latest revelations about Facebook's data-gathering practices could create more legal headaches for the social network as government regulators start investigations and app users file class action lawsuits against the company and third-party app developers. After the Journal's report was published, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the state's Department of State and Department of Financial Services to investigate what he called an invasion of consumer privacy, the Associated Press reported. He also asked federal regulators to crack down on apps that share personal information without users' knowledge. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called the behavior "a new low in privacy malpractice." Markey and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also urged the Federal Trade Commission to review complaints that Facebook knowingly manipulated children into spending their parents' money while playing games on the social network, per Broadcasting & Cable.
Mobile marketers need to be mindful of consumer privacy when their apps collect sensitive personal information about users to avoid backlash. As powerful as social media apps can be for advertising and marketing, they also can distribute negative publicity that could damage a brand's image. Apple and Google may be compelled to tighten their restrictions on app developers, including Facebook, that collect personal data about users without their informed consent as the data privacy space continues to heat up.
After the initial report in the Journal, Facebook contacted some large advertisers and developers to tell them it prohibits partners from sharing any sensitive information about users. The social network is now reportedly working on new systems to detect and block uploads of such data by apps, a person whose company was contacted by Facebook told the Journal. However, the report is yet another privacy problem that could continue to affect user and advertiser confidence in the platform.
The data-sharing problem could be widespread, as Facebook's software-development kits (SDKs), which are found in 17.6% of apps in Apple's App Store and 25.4% of apps in the Google Play store, can collect any information shared with an app. Facebook has continued to deal with privacy problems, and last week removed its Onavo Protect VPN app, which gives the social network access to a person's smartphone activities, from the Google Play store, and will stop collecting data from users who still have the app on their devices, per TechCrunch. Apple removed the app from the App Store in August.