Facebook, already under fire from a data breach scandal, has been discovered recording the phone call history of some users. Picture: AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV
Facebook, already under fire from a data breach scandal, has been discovered recording the phone call history of some users. Picture: AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

Facebook knows who you call

AS MANY as one in three Australians may have had their every mobile phone call and text message spied upon by Facebook for years in the latest scandal facing the world's biggest social network.

The beleaguered company, already facing three international inquiries and four lawsuits for sharing the information of 50 million users with a political data analytics firm, has confirmed it recorded the phone calls and personal messages of many of its users but argued they had "expressly agreed" to handing over the information and it helped provide them with a "better experience" online.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says he was sorry the Cambridge Analytica data breach “happened” but stopped short of apologising to affected users. Picture: David Ramos/Getty Images
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says he was sorry the Cambridge Analytica data breach “happened” but stopped short of apologising to affected users. Picture: David Ramos/Getty Images

The newest revelation may affect Australian Facebook users more acutely, as more than half of the country's population use the affected Facebook service, and as many as 8.2 million use the version that logged callers' information.

Facebook users discovered the extensive data-mining effort as they downloaded information shared on the social network in preparation for deleting their accounts.

The data archives included extensive logs detailing every mobile phone call they had made - not through Facebook but their regular phone carrier - as well as the duration and times of the calls, and identity of their callers.

Even missed mobile phone calls were listed in the data.

Facebook also collected information about SMS messages sent from the mobile phones, detailing when they were sent and received.

Mark  Zuckerberg has  failed to quell outrage over the hijacking of personal data from millions of people.
Mark Zuckerberg has failed to quell outrage over the hijacking of personal data from millions of people.

The social network confirmed on Tuesday it had harvested the information, recording phone calls from its Google Android Messenger app as far back as 2015.

Australians are one of the biggest users of this service with more than 13 million Aussies signed up to Messenger according to Facebook's own data.

When combined with a high number of Google Android phone users - as many as 65 per cent according to Statista - it shows as many as 33 per cent of Australians may have been caught up in the latest Facebook data drama.

In a statement, Facebook denied it had collected the information without users' permission and said it had taken the information from the Android versions of Messenger and then Facebook Lite.

"We introduced this feature for Android users a couple of years ago," the statement said.

Facebook users can check whether their mobile phone calls and text message histories have been captured by downloading a copy of their account archive.
Facebook users can check whether their mobile phone calls and text message histories have been captured by downloading a copy of their account archive.

"When this feature is enabled, uploading your contacts also allows us to use information like when a call or text was made or received.

"This feature does not collect the content of your calls or text messages. Your information is securely stored and we do not sell this information to third parties."

Some users obviously failed to realise how much information Facebook was collecting from their smartphones, however, as users turned to rival social networks to describe their "shock".

The news of Facebook's latest data collection comes just a week after data firm Cambridge Analytica was found to have purchased personal details of more than 50 million Facebook users, most of whom did not consent to handing over their information, and was alleged to have used the information to target voters in an attempt to influence the outcome of the 2016 US election.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has since pulled his companies Tesla and SpaceX from listings on Facebook, and audio firm Sonos announced they would suspend advertising on the site for a week.

Facebook users can check whether their mobile phone calls and text message histories have been captured by downloading a copy of their account archive and looking in the folder marked 'HTML'.

The data-collecting feature can also be disabled by turning off the 'Synced contacts' option in Messenger's menus.



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