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Internal documents show how Facebook decided to put in a feature that collected call and SMS data without users knowing

Mark ZuckerbergReutersMark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and chairman.
  • Internal Facebook emails released on Wednesday by British Parliament reveal the discussions leading to the “log scraping” practice that collected call and SMS text logs from Facebook users on Android devices.
  • Facebook initially planned to make the practice an “opt-in” feature that gave users a choice, and even then it was deemed a “high risk” move.
  • The company eventually found a way to implement the log scraping feature without user consent.
  • The practice became known to the public in March of this year.

Facebook’s practise of collecting call and SMS logs from users on some Android devices – a practice known as log scraping – was discovered back in March, causing a privacy scandal among users who said they never agreed to let the social network scrape that data.

At the time, the company denied that it did this without permission, though it does provide tools to opt out.

Now, recent documents released by the British Parliament on Wednesday show the discussions that led to Facebook deciding to collect call and SMS text logs without explicitly asking for user consent.

According to the documents, which include internal email communication from 2015, Facebook leadership was aware that log scraping from Facebook users on the Android mobile platform was a “pretty high risk thing to do from a PR perspective.”

Despite the “high risk” move, the company’s growth team would “charge ahead and do it.”

facebook log scraping uk partl 3UK Parliament

In the same email, Facebook had supposedly planned to make such log scraping an opt-in feature, which would require users to explicitly give the social network permission to grab those call and text logs.

However, subsequent emails showed that Facebook looked for ways to sneak the feature through “without subjecting [Facebook users on Android] to an Android permissions dialog at all.” Essentially, the feature would be enabled when a user updated the Facebook app via the Google Play Store, bypassing the normal process where an app asks the users to allow more security permissions.

facebook log scraping uk parlt 3UK Parliament

Log scraping was designed to improve Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature, which suggests potential contacts for you to befriend on Facebook, as well as contributing data towards certain Facebook features and algorithms.

That might sound innocuous enough, but Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature itself had come under fire in 2016, when Facebook wound up denying its original explanation of how the feature works. At first, the company said it uses location data, among other data, to suggest new contacts. Later, the company would do a U-turn and say that location data was not a point of data for the feature.

Business Insider requested clarification on certain elements of the internal emails included in the documents, but spokespeople for Facebook have yet to reply.

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