The New York Times’ post on Facebook data sharing has this BlackBerry user wondering how?
If you have a secret, I wouldn’t tell Facebook. That’s been a pretty basic concept for me for some time. It’s a social network which I’ve stayed away from. Yes, I had an account. Everyone had an account. Trying to grow a website, I felt the need to have a brand page, and of course, that meant that you had to have a personal page. So my personal page sat, unused, with a message for friends to find me on BBM. Later, as the #DeleteFacebook craze picked up some steam, I felt it was a perfect time to delete the brand page, and my personal page. I haven’t looked back.
Needless to say, I’m no fan of Facebook. I’m quite the opposite. I long for the day that friends stop sending links and videos that direct me back to that site. I love that people are suddenly taking an interest in the social media giant’s privacy practices. I absolutely love that so many of our “paranoid ideas” about the platform have been proven true. So of course, when I saw an article from the New York Times speaking of even more privacy concerns, I was going to read it. When this article even had a very nice graphic of the BlackBerry Z10, there was no way that I was going to pass it up. After all, I’ve been a BlackBerry user for over a decade now, and this was right up my alley.
Until I started reading the post. Or more precisely, once I got to the part that had to do with the BlackBerry. I had to stop and read it a few times, and I’ve gone back to read it a few times since. Why? Because what the article described as the methodology they used, doesn’t make a lick of sense. Any one of us that used BlackBerry 10 should have the same sense of bewilderment that I do.
I’m left wondering, how did the New York Times do the impossible?
The claim made by the post is that Facebook granted phone makers access to user information. The implication is that this will be an even bigger story than Cambridge Analytica. I’m sure the hope is that it will be. While I’m certainly not one to defend Facebook, and would happily welcome the news if that does turn out to be the case, their method of testing has far too many holes in it. Holes which any BlackBerry 10 user would quickly recognize.
Let’s run through their method, described by a very nice graphic of the Z10.
“Michael LaForgia, a New York Times reporter, used the Hub app on a BlackBerry Z10 to log into Facebook.”
Well, with the first step, they’ve done the impossible. You can’t login to Facebook using the Hub app. The only accounts you can manually add to the BlackBerry Hub, are email accounts. As any BB10 user will tell you, other accounts are added to the Hub once you sign into the app on the phone. This brings us to our second issue.
The BlackBerry Hub is a very handy application, and I can’t imagine using a phone without it. The first iteration of the BlackBerry Hub was born on BB10, the first of these devices, the Z10, is the very same model of phone that the New York Times was testing on. With the introduction of the BlackBerry Priv, BlackBerry has brought the BlackBerry Hub to the world of Android. The app itself, for the uninitiated, collates all of your messaging into one place. You text messages, emails, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, anything which you partake in messaging on your phone, all comes into one convenient place.
When BlackBerry 10 rolled out, there was a Facebook app for the phones. The app was built by BlackBerry using API’s provided by Facebook which allowed users to browse Facebook, like pictures and posts and send messages. These messages, like everything else on BlackBerry 10, were delivered via the BlackBerry Hub. You didn’t need to actually use the application in order to communicate, it’s really a beautiful level of functionality which is still unmatched.
Unfortunately for BB10 users, Facebook very publicly stopped supporting BlackBerry in March of 2016 when they abandoned the public API’s which BlackBerry used to make the native BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry OS apps. At that time, BlackBerry removed the app from the app store and replaced it with a web app. Essentially a wrapper on the Facebook mobile website. At this time, users lost access to Facebook messaging within the Hub. Which makes the next part of the New York Times post even more confusing.
“After connecting to Facebook, the BlackBerry Hub app was able to retrieve detailed data on 556 of Mr. LaForgia’s friends, including relationship status, religious and political leanings and events they planned to attend.”
How did you do this Mr. LaForgia? There is only one way which I can see this working. That would be if LaForgia has a Z10 which he hasn’t updated since March of 2016. The phone would need to still have the original BB10 Facebook application on it (because remember, the latest app does not have Hub access) and that original application would still need to work. This in itself would be quite a surprise to most BB10 users that updated their native app to the web app. LaForgia would then need to sign into that Facebook app, and approve the applications messaging being added to the Hub. But then it gets even weirder. LaForgia states on Twitter that he had signed into his account, and yet deleted the Facebook application from his phone, yet still received this information. This is something else which BB10 users would deem impossible.
Right away, and even though we had deleted the Facebook app from the phone, it started sucking down lots of my Facebook information. It pulled in my name and global user id — which can be synced up with all kinds of other, non-FB databases to get details about me.
— Michael LaForgia (@laforgia_) June 4, 2018
On Twitter, LaForgia states the information that is “gathered” such as birthdays, work, and educational histories of all his friends, through the BlackBerry Hub. He then tweets about the amount of information which is allowed to these Facebook partners.
for our story today on facebook’s data-sharing partnerships with device makers such as BlackBerry, Apple, Samsung, Amazon and Microsoft I used a network monitoring program to see what information our BlackBerry had permission to access. it was… a lot.https://t.co/0x6rvECDIG pic.twitter.com/qVzxcEfNV4
— gabriel dance (@gabrieldance) June 4, 2018
I’m no expert, but this looks like information which would be necessary to build a Facebook application. With the description given by the author, and my own experience with BlackBerry 10, it seems that author has grabbed a notification from the Hub, opened that notification, which opened the Facebook app, and he was able to use the app as it was intended to do. Now, I would not hold it against someone that has not used BB10 to not understand that opening a notification in the Hub can lead you to the application without ever actually clicking on the application icon. The Hub is quite efficient that way, and users of other platforms, usually don’t understand this.
The response from BlackBerry to the New York Times seems to echo my sentiments. From the same article,
Usher Lieberman, a BlackBerry spokesman, said in a statement that the company used Facebook data only to give its own customers access to their Facebook networks and messages. Mr. Lieberman said that the company “did not collect or mine the Facebook data of our customers,” adding that “BlackBerry has always been in the business of protecting, not monetizing, customer data.”
I have tweeted Mr. LaForgia asking for an explanation of his methods, and will update if he responds.
Can you explain how this worked?
The BB10 Facebook app was deprecated to a web app, the previous app no longer works.
The BlackBerry Hub on BB10 does not grab information from apps that you don't have on your phone, or from the new web app.
Would love to hear your method
— UTB Brad (@UTBBrad) June 5, 2018
Are you a current BB10 user with Facebook? Can you duplicate the results which the New York Times claim? We would love to hear from you.
You can read the original New York Times article here.