Facebook continues facing the heat for the Cambridge Analytica fallout where the US data firm reportedly gained access to private data of over 50 million Facebook users without their consent. The social media company has now again landed in hot water after some Android users discovered that the company has been collecting metadata of their call and SMS details. In the download copy of their Facebook data, users found that their data was being collected from the past few years with details like contact names, numbers and even the duration of each outgoing and incoming call.
One can check what data has been collected by Facebook by navigating to General tab in Settings, where they can “Download a copy of your Facebook data”. This feature is only accessible while using Facebook from a desktop and it downloads a zip file, which contains the file contact_info.htm within the HTML folder. Users have found their contact, SMS and call data in the mentioned file, as per an Ars Technica report.
Some media reports also said that Facebook was making its apps target older Android API levels in order to bypass permissions for collecting sensitive user data. However, the company denied this and said this isn't the case as the apps explicitly request users to agree for uploading the contact info they have on their phone.
In reply to the newfound data breach, Facebook has posted a “Fact Check” on its newsroom portal, where the company says that it didn’t actually collect any content from the calls and SMS/MMS, and only metadata related to it. Also, the data was being collected from Facebook Lite and Messenger apps and the call and text history logging is said to be an opt-in feature, which allows users to “ find and stay connected with the people you care about,and provides you with a better experience across Facebook” This seems to be the case as the apps do ask users if they would like to upload their contacts during setup.
However, Sean Gallagher from Ars Technica says that what Facebook is citing in its blog is contradictory to what he, and some other users have come across. As per the report, Dylan McKay, a user who came across Facebook’s trove of collected data, told Ars that he installed the Messenger app in 2015 but only granted it permissions, which are asked for during the installation. “McKay removed and reinstalled the app several times over the course of the next few years, but never explicitly gave the app permission to read his SMS records and call history. His call and SMS data run through July of 2017.” says the report.
Facebook says that it first introduced the feature in its Messenger app in 2015. iOS users are unaffected thanks to Apple's strict guidelines that do not allow apps to access call and SMS data. A user can opt-out of it anytime by turning it off in their Facebook settings or here for Facebook Lite users. The company's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg has also acknowledged the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data debacle and apologised for it. You can read the latest developments here.