You might have thought that the worst of Facebook's PR disaster was over. Not a chance. As some people ready to delete their accounts, they've looked at the information the social network has collected. Something included at times are call data and texts from your Android phone (Apple's policies apparently made it impossible on the iPhone).
The PR disaster of Cambridge Analytica and the personal data of 50 million Facebook users, was bad. Days passed before CEO Mark Zuckerberg or COO Sheryl Sandberg said a word about the problem. The discussion was all around the psychographic data such as liking pages or comments on posts.
This is another order of problem entirely with news first appearing during the weekend via Sean Gallagher at Ars Technica. Some people who heard about the Cambridge Analytica scandal downloaded their Facebook data. That's when things got interesting.
Oh wow my deleted Facebook Zip file contains info on every single phone cellphone call and text I made for about a year- cool totally not creepy.-- Mat Johnson (@mat_johnson) March 23, 2018
Downloaded my facebook data as a ZIP file-- Dylan McKay (@dylanmckaynz) March 21, 2018
Somehow it has my entire call history with my partner's mum pic.twitter.com/CIRUguf4vD
I had a similar issue with mine on Android. Don't have FB installed but I do use Messenger and Instagram. Interestingly they only tracked when I rang my parents and girlfriend. Have never used Messenger in regards to my parents. Weird.-- Ben Wigham (@bmdwigham) March 24, 2018
The origin of this data harvest, according to Ars Technica, was Facebook's interest in gathering data to expand its social graph. When someone installs the app on an Android phone, it asks for permission to upload contact info to find potential matches.
A few versions back, that permission included access to contact logs and SMS text messages. Under more recent versions, there were more explicit requests for access to the logs and text messages. But for a long time, even with Android updates, the earlier versions could continue to gain access to the data.
It may be that none of that data from your phone joined the rest that Facebook has on you. When I downloaded and checked my data, none was in sight. But then, I've never agreed to allow contacts to be uploaded. If you have and you use an Android phone, you may want to download your data and see how much is in there.
The story for Facebook, as bad as it has sounded with apparent Russian-connected attempts to influence the election through social media, could have been worse. Even with the growing clamor of the public and regulators, Facebook could try to claim ignorance or a need to improve its oversight or systems, much as it has.
But creating collections of phone records and SMS messages -- and continuing to capture the information even when Google changed the permission standards for Android -- isn't a mistake or oversight. It was intentional.
Maybe it was to help find potential matches, but keeping data for years? How long does it take to suggest a connection?
Facebook is a bellwether for the tech industry, at least those portions, like Google and Snap and Twitter, that heavily depend on advertising and user data. If greater regulation comes into force in the U.S. as a result of all this terrible PR, these giants will face some significant setbacks.
There are two big reasons advertisers head online. The people are there -- that's one -- and advertisers want the ability to target precisely an audience for their marketing. Rein that capability in, and suddenly Google, Facebook, and a number of other companies don't look so appealing.