Netflix Under Fire: Meta (Again) Refutes Accusations of Reading Private Facebook Messages from Users

Meta is denying that it gave Netflix access to users’ private messages. Meta’s communications director, Andy Stone, reposted the original X post on Tuesday with a statement disputing that Netflix had been given access to users’ private messages. However, The New York Times had previously reported in 2018 that Netflix and Spotify could read users’ private messages, according to documents it had obtained. “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,” the blog post stated.

Meta is denying the recent claim that Netflix had access to users’ private messages, despite the support of X owner Elon Musk. Musk retweeted multiple posts about the matter, adding his own reactions of “Wow” and “Yup”. This claim originated from a court filing in a class-action lawsuit between a group of consumers and Facebook’s parent company, Meta, over data privacy practices.

The filing states that Netflix and Facebook had a “special relationship” and that Facebook reduced spending on its Facebook Watch video service to avoid competition from Netflix, who was a major advertiser on the platform. The document also alleges that Netflix had access to Meta’s “Inbox API”, which allowed the streaming service to access private messages from Facebook’s users.

This particular part of the claim caught Musk’s attention, resulting in a widespread outcry about how Facebook may be selling user data. However, Meta has officially denied the accuracy of these claims.

“Shockingly untrue,” stated Meta’s communications director, Andy Stone, in a repost of the original X post on Tuesday. He continued, “Meta did not share people’s private messages with Netflix. The agreement simply allowed users to message their friends on Facebook about what they were watching on Netflix, directly from the Netflix app. This type of agreement is common in the industry.”

In other words, Meta is admitting that Netflix did have programmatic access to users’ inboxes but insists that it was not used to read private messages.

Beyond Stone’s post, Meta has not provided any further comment on the matter. However, a 2018 report from The New York Times stated that Netflix and Spotify did have access to read users’ private messages, according to documents that were obtained. Back then, Meta denied those claims in a blog post titled “Facts About Facebook’s Messaging Partnerships”, explaining that these companies had access to APIs that allowed users to message friends about what they were listening to or watching on third-party apps. This required the companies to have write, read, and delete access to message friends.

The blog post stated, “No third party was reading or writing messages without user permission. Many news stories imply that we were shipping over private messages, which is incorrect.”

It’s worth noting that Messenger did not yet have default end-to-end encryption until December 2023, making these claims difficult to substantiate. The lack of encryption combined with read/write access to message inboxes means that there was no guarantee of message security, even though that was not the focus of the business arrangement.

While Stone downplays Netflix’s ability to snoop, it should be noted that Netflix was given a level of access that other companies did not have. This includes access to Facebook’s private API, known as the “Titan API”, which allowed them to integrate with Facebook’s messaging app. In exchange for this access, Netflix agreed to provide Meta with a bi-weekly report of their recommendations and recipient interactions, as well as keep the API agreement confidential.

According to the court filing, by 2015, Netflix was spending $40 million on Facebook ads and allowing the use of user data for ad targeting and optimization. In 2017, the streaming giant agreed to spend $150 million on Facebook ads and provide “cross-device intent signals” to the company.

The relationship between Netflix and Facebook remained close, with former Netflix CEO and then-Facebook board member, Reed Hastings, directly communicating with top Meta execs, including Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Elliot Schrage, and Andrew Bosworth.

To uphold Netflix’s advertising business, Zuckerberg personally emailed Fidji Simo, the head of Facebook Watch, in May 2018, to inform her that the Watch budget for originals and sports was being reduced by $750 million as Facebook exited from competing with Netflix. Facebook had been building the Watch business for two years but had only introduced the Watch tab in the US in August 2017.

Elsewhere in the filing, Meta disclosed how it secretly snooped on Snapchat traffic, among other things.

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Zara Khan

Zara Khan is a seasoned investigative journalist with a focus on social justice issues. She has won numerous awards for her groundbreaking reporting and has a reputation for fearlessly exposing wrongdoing.

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