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The BBC has done some superb reporting on the Facebook data scandal. However, it seems the Beeb should perhaps be asking serious questions of itself.
After the Facebook data scandal broke, I started going through the long list of apps/services that I’d given permission to access my Facebook data. Amongst them was the BBC, which used to allow you to login to its website with your Facebook credentials to save you from having to create yet another username and password.
Facebook lets you see which information third parties request permission to access. When I clicked on the BBC website listing, I got quite a shock:
The BBC had basically ordered the Facebook equivalent of the Full English. It had sought permission to suck up everything from photos of my kids, to my religious and political views, to my relationship status. All just so that I could log in to its website.
So, I asked the BBC press office to justify why it needed all this data and what it had been used for.
After a couple of days of chasing, I was given the following response:
Prior to September 2016, like many other websites and apps – the BBC allowed you to sign-in using a Facebook or Google+ account. We removed this capability in Sep 2016 when we upgraded to a new BBC account system – so people had to register with an email and password (or username if under 13).
We did not collect any of the personal data (in your list) about BBC account holders from their Facebook accounts. The only data the BBC stored about users who linked their BBC account to their Facebook account was a single Facebook user identifier (a userID) to enable a user to log-in. If Facebook or Google+ made any other information available to us, we never used, collected or stored it.
Here, the BBC seems to be shifting the blame onto Facebook. It’s basically saying ‘Facebook gave us access to all this stuff but we didn’t need it’. Yet, it was down to the BBC to decide which information it requested from Facebook users – it didn’t need to seek permission to all this data simply to create a User ID. It could have done that with nothing more than my name and email address, like, for example, The Telegraph did:
Or Channel 4:
Is the BBC sitting on a huge cache of user data? Once again, the BBC insists it’s not. When I asked where and how this rich list of user data was being stored, the BBC again replied:
We did not collect any of the personal data (in your list) about BBC account holders from their Facebook accounts.
This is all very odd. At best, the BBC asked Facebook users for permission to access a long list of highly personal data that it had no intention of using. To which you have to wonder: why ask for all that stuff in the first place?
At worst, the BBC has collected a vast trove of data on potentially millions of users – although the BBC flatly denies that and I have no evidence to the contrary.
Now read this: how can I leave Facebook?