A step back for a feature that never needed so much access
It was revealed last month that Facebook has been collecting call records and SMS data from Android devices for years. Facebook has been using what it calls an “opt-in feature” to improve its friend recommendation algorithm by requesting access to contacts, SMS data, and call history on Android phones. Facebook users, spooked by the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, started downloading their data and were alarmed to find the call history records and SMS data.
Facebook now says it has examined the feature and is making changes to it. “We’ve reviewed this feature to confirm that Facebook does not collect the content of messages — and will delete all logs older than one year,” says Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer. It’s not clear why Facebook is deleting older logs, but it’s likely the company wants to limit the amount of data that’s stored on accounts using this feature.
“In the future, the client will only upload to our servers the information needed to offer this feature,” says Schroepfer, so broader data like the time of calls won’t be uploaded. This is a welcome change, as Facebook clearly never needed all the information it collected on SMS data and call history over the past three years. Facebook was able to acquire this information only on Android phones, as Apple’s iOS blocks access to call history and SMS data to other apps.
Facebook is implementing these changes as part of a much broader plan to restrict data access on the social network. Facebook’s data restrictions come as the company continues to deal with the fall out from Cambridge Analytica obtaining personal information from millions of Facebook users. At first it was thought that around 50 million Facebook users had their data obtained by Cambridge Analytica, but Facebook now says 87 million people, mainly in the US, were affected. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify before Congress next week to answer questions about his company’s use and protection of user data.