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Facebook has been scraping users data on some Android phones for years

Mar 25, 2018, 6:36 pm

After the unfolding of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, some Facebook users, to their surprise are finding their detailed phone records, including dates, times, call lengths, call recipients, and phone numbers online.

This is only happening to Android users and only if certain data approvals are granted. For some people who switched to the Android ecosystem several years ago, there’s no record of calls in their Facebook data download.

Although, Dylan McKay, a New Zealand-based programmer, wasn’t so lucky. He tweeted a now-viral screenshot of Facebook’s collected phone data. A follow-up Ars Technica investigation revealed the connection with Android.

When access is given by the user, Facebook can use contact data from an Android phone to help find friends via recommendation. The FB Messenger app goes further in seeking permission to access call and text message options and logs on Android devices.

Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are other ways to get the data. The investigation discovered that in older, pre-Jelly Bean (v4.1) versions of Android, letting Facebook app access to phone contacts also allowed it to access call and text logs and options. Later, the Android updates changed the policy to include discrete permissions, but this change didn’t affect Android apps given permission prior to the change.

According to Ars Technica, Google in October 2017 started advising developers not to use the Android 4.0 API anymore.

This discovery comes out a moment of reckoning regarding Facebook’s data collection practices going awry. Facebook, a multi-billion dollar MNC has been facing advertisers leaving, federal inquiries, and widespread uproar regarding the unveiling of the underhanded practices of the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, who exploited developer resources to harvest the data of around 50 million Facebook users in the year 2014.

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