This March, Facebook user Dylan McKay of New Zealand made an interesting discovery after downloading all of his data from the company: It had compiled information about every phone call he made from his Android.
The material hoovered by Facebook included names of people called, phone numbers and the calls' length. That revelation spurred journalists and others to investigate, which led Facebook to admit it logged metadata about people's calls. Facebook used the information to make friend suggestions to its users.
At the time, the social networking service said it only offered this “feature” to people who had expressly opted in -- stretching the meaning of the word “feature” as well as the phrase “opt in.”
Even back in March, some observers doubted the company's official explanation -- especially because they had no idea they ever consented to share this data with Facebook.
“The opt-in was the default installation mode for Facebook's application, not a separate notification of data collection,” Ars Technica wrote in March. “Facebook never explicitly revealed that the data was being collected, and it was only discovered as part of a review of the data associated with the accounts.”
This week, more details surrounding Facebook's data grab have cast even more doubt on the company's questionable understanding of opt-in consent. On Wednesday, U.K. lawmaker Damian Collins released 250 pages of internal Facebook emails, including ones that outlined plans to capture metadata about phone calls.
That material appears to show company executives discussing how they could use a 2015 update to capture metadata about people's phone calls.
In a message dated February 4, 2015, a Facebook executive says the company's “growth team” planned to update the app's Android permissions to include one that says “read call log.” That email says users will be required to accept the update.
“This is a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it,” the executive wrote.
Lest there was any doubt, that email makes clear that the company couldn't have believed users really wanted to share information about their phone calls.
Nonetheless, on Wednesday Facebook again insisted that its users affirmatively allowed data about their phone calls and text messages to be logged.
“This specific feature allows people to opt in to giving Facebook access to their call and text messaging logs in Facebook Lite and Messenger on Android devices,” Facebook wrote.