Things have seemingly gone from bad to worse for Facebook, as the company — already caught in one firestorm about user data — is now taking heat for its scraping of call and message metadata.
For years now, Facebook has been scraping call and text message information from Android users, Ars Technica reports. That information includes names, phone numbers, and the length of each call made or received.
Facebook users currently receive a prompt asking if they’d like to “continuously upload info about your contacts like phone numbers and nicknames, and your call and text history.” But Ars Technica notes that “Facebook was already doing this surreptitiously on some Android devices until October 2017, exploiting the way an older Android API handled permissions.”
A tweet from New Zealand Twitter user Dylan McKay about Facebook’s collection of his own metadata went viral last week, and Ars Technica confirmed their own similar results independently.
Downloaded my facebook data as a ZIP file
Somehow it has my entire call history with my partner's mum pic.twitter.com/CIRUguf4vD
— Dylan McKay (@dylanmckaynz) March 21, 2018
Facebook could continually access this data by bypassing more recent changes to the Android application programming interface. It’s notable that iOS users are unaffected by this issue, as Apple has never allowed access to that specific data.
In a post titled “Fact Check: Your Call and SMS History,” Facebook has issued a response, claiming that call and SMS history hasn’t been collected without permission. The company maintains the continuous uploading of such data has “always been opt-in only.” Facebook also said, in bold, that “We never sell this data, and this feature does not collect the content of your text messages or calls.”
Ars Technica’s own update found this response contradictory to “the experience of several users.” As they wrote: “While data collection was technically ‘opt-in,’ in both these cases the opt-in was the default installation mode for Facebook’s application, not a separate notification of data collection. Facebook never explicitly revealed that the data was being collected, and it was only discovered as part of a review of the data associated with the accounts.”
Facebook has already drawn plenty of heat for how Cambridge Analytica — a consulting firm which worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — handled its user data. Now the company is dealing with another prominent user data issue.
If you’re interested in downloading your own Facebook metadata, go into Settings. There, in General Account Settings, you’ll see an option to “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”
To turn off synced contacts in Facebook Messenger, open the Messenger app, then tap your profile picture in the top corner. Tap People, then you’ll see Synced Contacts, which you can toggle on or off.