Facebook and Instagram Link Previews Would Break EU Privacy Law, Say Security Researchers

A follow-up report by security researchers Talal Haj Bakry and Tommy Mysk has alleged that Facebook Messenger and Instagram are collecting and using data from link previews in a way that would breach European privacy law.

facebook messenger icon new

In October last year, Bakry and Mysk revealed that link previews in popular messaging apps can lead to security and privacy issues on iOS and Android. It was discovered that apps could leak IP addresses, expose links sent in end-to-end encrypted chats, download large files without users' consent, and copy private data through link previews.

In that report, Bakry and Mysk found that Facebook Messenger and Instagram behaved unlike other messaging apps in that they downloaded the entire contents of any link to its servers, regardless of size. When questioned about this unusual behavior, Facebook reportedly said that it considers this to be "working as intended."

Copies of link preview data kept on external servers could be subject to breaches or misuse, which may be particularly concerning for users who send links to sensitive or confidential private data such as business documents, bills, contracts, or medical records.

Now, Bakry and Mysk have found that Facebook has recently stopped generating link previews in Messenger and Instagram for users in Europe to comply with the European Union's ePrivacy Directive. The change also applies to users outside Europe if they communicate with someone in the region.

messenger link previewsLinks sent in Facebook Messenger as seen in Europe and other regions

The researchers suggest that since Europe has "some of the most robust privacy laws" and Facebook has now removed link previews seemingly to comply with the legislation, the company must have been using the data from link previews in a way that would breach the ePrivacy Directive.

It is an implicit confirmation that Facebook's handling of link previews in Messenger and Instagram did not conform to privacy regulations in Europe, otherwise they wouldn't have disabled the feature... Stopping this service in Europe strongly hints that Facebook may be using this content for purposes other than generating previews.

Bakry and Mysk believe that Facebook's link previews may have infringed on articles 4:1a, 4:2, and 5:3 of the ePrivacy Directive. These articles include the requirement that personal data can only be accessed by authorized personnel for legal purposes, the need to inform users of the risks of a data breach, and the need to gain user consent having been provided with "clear and comprehensive information" about how data is collected.

As links may relate to personal data, the ePrivacy Directive prevents Facebook from storing, processing, or using this information without explicit consent from users in the EU. Facebook would also have to make it clear to users why it is downloading the contents of link previews prior to requesting consent.

Bakry and Mysk have demonstrated that Facebook servers download and store the content of links sent through its apps, and if the same link is sent a second time, Facebook generates a link preview without downloading the contents of the link. This purportedly indicates that the content is stored or cached by Facebook and is proven by the amount of data that is uploaded from a user's device.

Link previews continue to be available in Messenger and Instagram for users outside Europe. Facebook's current Terms of Service state that any content users share through any of Facebook's services will be used for various purposes such as personalizing content, ads, making suggestions, and learning about users, both on and off Facebook's products. In Europe, this use of personal data now requires explicit consent from users even if it is approved by Facebook's Terms of Service.

Facebook disabled link previews for users in Europe to comply with new privacy regulations. This confirms our privacy concerns that sending links to private files in Messenger and Instagram is unsafe. While Facebook did disable link previews in Europe, users in other regions should refrain from sending links through either of these apps. The better option would be to switch to other messaging apps which respect user privacy in all parts of the world alike.

Bakry and Mysk are now actively recommending that users outside Europe do not send links in Messenger or Instagram due to privacy concerns, and have even suggested that users move to other messaging apps entirely.

Beyond link previews, the researchers have previously investigated popular iPhone and iPad apps "snooping" on iOS pasteboard data and HTTP security vulnerabilities in TikTok.

Top Rated Comments

Matthew.H Avatar
18 months ago
Why does this not surprise me.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
and 1989 others Avatar
18 months ago
What is more curious, is that day by day we have story after story of the FB group misusing data, mining data, selling personal data, building profiles of individual for nefarious means, manipulating the political sphere etc etc...

And YET people still use the services every single day.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Mike_Trivisonno Avatar
18 months ago
Honestly, what the heck is wrong with these companies? They are so weird and creepy. Can't they just stop stalking their users? Just quit it. People want advanced technology, not cyber-stalking freaks.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
luvbug Avatar
18 months ago
Evil, just simply evil. Scumbags extraordinaire.
.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Pangalactic Avatar
18 months ago
Waiting for the Facebook reply "But tracking and data mining is good for you! It is privacy that violates your...ehmm...advertising potential!"
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
infinitejest Avatar
18 months ago
They only do that to save small businesses, guys!
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

Facebook Feature

Report: Facebook to Change Its Name Next Week to Better Reflect Company's 'Metaverse'

Wednesday October 20, 2021 3:41 am PDT by
Facebook is reportedly planning to change its name to better reflect Mark Zuckerberg's goal of creating a "metaverse," reports The Verge, claiming the change could come as soon as next week. From the report: The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company's annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech...
facebook

Facebook Crowned 'Worst Company of 2021' by New Survey

Sunday December 19, 2021 3:47 am PST by
Facebook, otherwise known as Meta, has been crowned the worst company of the year, following a turbulent 12 months of controversies, public backlash, and an eventual entire rebrand of the social media giant, according to a survey conducted by Yahoo Finance. Yahoo Finance every year crowns the best company of the year, with Microsoft taking the top spot for 2021. This year, however, Yahoo...
telegram

Telegram Messenger Gains Download Manager, New Attachment Menu, and More

Friday March 11, 2022 3:24 am PST by
Telegram Messenger has updated its iPhone and iPad app with several new features, including a new download manager, redesigned attachment menu, support for live streaming with third-party apps, and more. Telegram users are able to send files of any type up to 2GB each and access them from any device, with no limit on cloud storage, which has made downloading files more popular on the...
facebook reels

TikTok-Inspired 'Reels' Videos Are Coming to Facebook in the U.S. on iOS

Wednesday September 29, 2021 8:18 am PDT by
Facebook today announced that it's bringing Reels, its short-form videos that were previously only available on the Instagram platform, to its main Facebook app on iOS and Android in the United States. While the two share the same name and style, Reels content on Instagram and Facebook will differ. Facebook says it is testing the ability for Instagram Reels content creators to share their...
Facebook Feature

FTC Accuses Facebook of Using 'Buy-or-Bury' Techniques to Stifle Competition and 'Hone a Surveillance-Based Advertising Model'

Thursday August 19, 2021 4:29 pm PDT by
The United States Federal Trade Commission today reinforced its antitrust case against Facebook by providing more detail on how the company either crushed or bought out its rivals in an attempt to get rid of competition. The updated filing is longer than the original complaint and it offers additional evidence in favor of the FTC's argument that Facebook is a monopolist, plus it again asks...
iOS App Store General Feature JoeBlue

Upcoming EU Sideloading Bill Would 'Cripple the Privacy and Security Protections' iPhone Users Expect, Says Apple

Thursday March 17, 2022 10:38 am PDT by
The European Union is set to introduce new legislation as soon as this month that would significantly affect how the App Store operates in Europe, reports The Wall Street Journal. The Digital Markets Act has been in development for some time and the finalized version that could be completed as soon as this month will allow for sideloading and alternate app store options. Apple will be...
Facebook Hacked Feature

Mark Zuckerberg's Details Leaked in Facebook Data Breach

Wednesday April 7, 2021 7:08 am PDT by
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's own personal information was among the details of 533 million Facebook users that leaked in a data breach, it has emerged. Facebook has now confirmed that the leaked data was obtained not by a hack, but by scraping the platform prior to September 2019. The company now says that an exploit was found in its contact importer, but the "specific issue that allowed...
iphone apps lancscape mode

Instagram Head Says iPad App Is Low Priority Because Not Enough People Want It

Monday February 28, 2022 1:45 am PST by
The head of Instagram has commented on Twitter about the lack of an iPad app for Instagram, saying that while the social media platform is asked about an iPad app a lot, there is still not enough demand to warrant one. In a Twitter exchange with YouTuber Marques Brownlee, Adam Mosseri, who runs Instagram, said his company gets asked about an iPad app a lot, but it's "still just not a big...

Popular Stories

2022 back to school apple

Apple Launches 2022 Back to School Offer: Up to $150 Gift Card With Mac or iPad

Friday June 24, 2022 5:08 am PDT by
Apple today launched its annual "Back to School" promotion for college/university students in the United States and Canada. This year's promotion offers a free Apple gift card with the purchase of an eligible Mac or iPad, rather than free AirPods like last year. Apple is also offering students 20% off AppleCare+ plans during the promotion. Apple is offering a $150 gift card with the purchase ...
apple ar headset concept 2

Apple CEO Tim Cook Hints at AR/VR Headset: 'Stay Tuned and You'll See What We Have to Offer'

Wednesday June 22, 2022 6:34 pm PDT by
CEO Tim Cook this week did an interview with China Daily, where he once again commented on on the future of augmented reality and hinted at Apple's work on an AR/VR headset. Render via designer Ian Zelbo Cook said that Apple is excited about the opportunities available with augmented reality, which is not too far off from prior comments that he's made, but he went on to say that people should ...
airpods pro 2 1

AirPods Pro 2 Said to Feature Upgraded H1 Chip, Find My, Heart Rate Detection, USB-C and More

Friday June 24, 2022 9:48 am PDT by
The next-generation AirPods Pro could come with a long list of new features that include heart rate detection, the ability to function as a hearing aid, and a USB-C port according to a report from 52Audio. The site claims that it has received new information on the AirPods Pro 2, and it has used that information to provide some renders on what the earbuds might look like. Design wise, there...
customize wallpaper setting ios 16

iOS 16 Beta 2 Tidbits: New Wallpaper Colors, Backup Over LTE, SMS Filtering and More

Wednesday June 22, 2022 2:16 pm PDT by
Apple today seeded the second betas of iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 to developers for testing purposes, and the new betas introduce new features and refine some of the changes that Apple made with the first iOS 16 release. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Lock Screen Photo Wallpaper Customization When customizing a photo on the Lock Screen, there are two new DuoTone and...
home app ios 16

Apple Confirms iPad Will No Longer Be Supported as a Home Hub in iOS 16

Wednesday June 22, 2022 12:38 pm PDT by
The iPad will no longer be able to be used as a home hub following the launch of iOS 16, iPadOS 16, macOS Ventura, and the HomePod 16 software this fall, Apple confirmed today. As discovered in iOS 16 code by MacRumors contributor Steve Moser, Apple says that the iPad will no longer be supported as a home hub. This information will be displayed in the Home app after updating to iOS 16.A home ...
apple ar headset concept 1

Apple Rumored to Announce 'Game-Changer' AR/VR Headset in January 2023

Friday June 24, 2022 2:52 am PDT by
Apple is "likely" to announce its long-rumored mixed-reality headset as soon as January 2023, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has reiterated. Concept render based on purported leaked information by Ian Zelbo In a detailed post on Medium, Kuo explained that Apple's headset will be a "game-changer" for the augmented-reality and virtual-reality market. Describing some of the headset's...