Menu Menu

Facebook allegedly shared user messages with Netflix for a decade

In a shady bid to better tailor content for its subscribers, Netflix has allegedly been peering at our private messages on Facebook – get this, for as long as a decade.

Facebook is back in court, again.

The charges levelled at parent company Meta follows a long rap sheet of previous data privacy and anti-trust violations.

On this occasion, however, the social enterprise is one of two defendants. The lawsuit, filed by US citizens Maximilian Klein and Sarah Grabert, alleges that Facebook has been in cahoots with Netflix for over a decade on a shady streamlining operation.

The document states that ‘bespoke access’ to Facebook’s user data was provided to Netflix – alarmingly, including our private messages – so the streaming giant could better tailor content for its own subscribers.

In return, Netflix supposedly provided detailed reports for Meta every fortnight with metrics on how its subscribers interacted with Facebook. The ol’ you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours scenario.

Lawyers are particularly interested in a chunk of time around June 2011, in which Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings joined his close pal Mark Zuckerberg on the Facebook board of directors.

Within a month of Reed’s inauguration, the two Silicon Valley players had signed off on an ‘inbox API’ (Application Programming Access) partnership. The nature of this alliance, of course, was kept confidential including all extensions to the API.

In laymen’s terms, there is near-infallible evidence to suggest that for upwards of a decade Netflix has had the ability to peer at private messages on Facebook. The lawsuit states in black and white that the API permitted Netflix ‘programmic access to Facebook user’s private message inboxes.’

Naturally, Meta is denying any wrongdoing. The company’s Communications Director Andy Stone recently posted on Twitter (X):

‘Meta didn’t share people’s private messages with Netflix. The agreement allowed people to message their friends on Facebook about what they were watching on Netflix, directly from the Netflix app. Such agreements are commonplace in the industry.’

Essentially, Netflix had the power to look at private messages but Meta pinky swears that it didn’t use it. This defence tact invokes a strong sense of deja’vu, given it used the same retort in 2018 following an exposé from the New York Times declaring Netflix and Spotify could read users’ private messages.

‘No third party was reading your private messages, or writing messages to your friends without your permission. Many news stories imply we were shipping over private messages to partners, which is not correct,’ read a blog post titled ‘Facts About Facebook’s Messaging Partnerships’.

In any event, Facebook Messenger didn’t implement end-to-end encryption until December 2023 – a practice that would’ve all but eliminated suspicions if included from the off.

Truth be told, it’s becoming harder by the year to give Meta the benefit of the doubt regarding its intentions with our data. We don’t need to get into the details of Cambridge Analytica again or incidents from prior years that forced Zuckerberg and Co to shell out billions in reparations.

Just four months into 2024, Meta isn’t exactly keeping its nose clean. While this latest debacle continues to play out, it’s worth noting that the company still hasn’t accounted for the eye-watering droves of user data it stockpiles for its targeted ads scheme.

If charged during this class action lawsuit, both platforms will have plenty to answer for. More to come.