Sensitive data sent to social media giant from ‘at least 11’ platforms

Facebook is battling fresh controversy on both sides of the Atlantic amid claims that it has been receiving highly personal data from third-party apps.

The swirl of bad news around the company comes after its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was criticised for meeting the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, having refused to appear before an influential parliamentary committee in Westminster.

The meeting came amid speculation that the government may soon publish a white paper potentially paving the way for an independent social media regulator.

But the Observer has been told that a row is brewing over how the regulator should be funded. A proposal to hit the social media companies with a levy has alarmed some in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) who want to encourage tech investment in the UK. Others believe the levy should be applied to a broader range of tech firms, including the likes of Amazon. There are also questions over whether the media regulator, Ofcom, should oversee the new regulator or whether it should stand alone.

On Friday, a Wall Street Journal investigation found that Facebook can receive information from numerous apps even if, in some cases, the user does not have a Facebook account. Of more than 70 popular apps tested by the Journal, it found at least 11 sent potentially sensitive information to Facebook.

These included the Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, which reportedly shared with Facebook when users were having their periods or when they were trying to become pregnant. Facebook said that it required apps to tell users what information was shared with it and that it “prohibits app developers from sending us sensitive data”.

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