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
14 weeks ago
Why does this not surprise me.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
and 1989 others Avatar
14 weeks 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
14 weeks 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
14 weeks ago
Evil, just simply evil. Scumbags extraordinaire.
.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Pangalactic Avatar
14 weeks 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
14 weeks ago
They only do that to save small businesses, guys!
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

General Music and AirPod 3 Feature

Rumor: Apple to Announce Third-Generation AirPods and HiFi Apple Music Tier on May 18

Thursday May 13, 2021 10:32 pm PDT by
A new rumor suggests that Apple will announce the third-generation AirPods and the recently rumored HiFi, or high-fidelity Apple Music tier, on Tuesday, May 18, via a press release on its website. The new rumor comes from Apple YouTuber Luke Miani who shared the alleged exclusive news with the AppleTrack website. According to the YouTuber, Apple plans to release the next-generation AirPods...
apple park drone june 2018 2

Apple Fires Newly Hired Ex-Facebook Product Manager Following Revelations of Past Misogynistic Comments

Thursday May 13, 2021 12:10 am PDT by
Apple has fired Antonio García Martínez, an ex-Facebook product manager and author of the controversial book "Chaos Monkeys," following public and internal calls for removal and investigation due to past misogynistic statements, The Verge reports. Apple hired Martínez earlier this week to join its ads team, however, comments that Martínez made in the past sparked condemnation from users...
imac m1 blue isolated 16x9 500k

M1 iMac is Up to 56% Faster Than Prior-Generation High-End 21.5-Inch iMac

Wednesday May 12, 2021 10:03 am PDT by
Apple's M1 iMacs are set to start delivering to customers next week, and ahead of the official launch day, benchmarks for the machines have been showing up on Geekbench, likely from reviewers who are testing them. It will come as no surprise that M1 iMac benchmarks are right on par with benchmarks for the M1 MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac mini, coming in with an average single-core score...
2021 mbp hdmi slot 3d

2021 MacBook Pro Leaks Confirm Returning MagSafe and Ports

Friday May 14, 2021 3:06 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming MacBook Pro models are expected to feature a number of major changes such as larger display options and powerful new Apple silicon chips. Among the more surprising updates to this year's MacBook Pro models is the return of three ports that have been missing from the machines for over five years. Expected to come in 14- and 16-inch sizes, the 2021 MacBook Pro models are...
fortnite apple logo 2

Judge in Epic vs. Apple Case Floats Potential Compromise

Wednesday May 12, 2021 3:54 pm PDT by
In the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Epic Games, the two companies are this week calling up their expert witnesses to argue their points before Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who will make a decision in the case after a three week trial. Expert testimony is not as exciting as some of the leaked App Store documents that were highlighted last week, especially as much of what's being...
google photos

PSA: Google Photos Unlimited Storage Ends Next Month, Here's How to Export Your Pictures to iCloud

Thursday May 13, 2021 5:26 am PDT by
For as long as it's existed, Google Photos has offered free unlimited storage for uploading images at a reduced yet good enough quality for most users. From June 1, 2021, however, all photos and videos uploaded to Google accounts will count against users' cloud storage. If you've been relying on Google to back up your media library, it may be time to move that content elsewhere. This article...
AirTag in Envelope Feature 2

AirTag Used to Successfully Track a Mailed Package Across the UK

Wednesday May 12, 2021 8:44 am PDT by
An Apple customer in the United Kingdom has successfully used Apple's Find My network to track an AirTag as it was being sent by mail to a friend in a completely different city. Outlined in a blog post at Intego, Kirk McElhearn said he taped an AirTag to a piece of card, wrapped it inside a small bubble envelope, and then sent it on its way. Kirk lives in the small town of...
m1 ipad pro chip

M1 iPad Pro Over 50% Faster Than Previous Generation in Early Benchmarks

Tuesday May 11, 2021 11:56 am PDT by
Last month, Apple introduced a new iPad Pro with the same M1 chip found in the latest Macs, and early benchmark results indicate that the M1 iPad Pro is over 50% faster than the previous-generation iPad Pro. Based on five legitimate Geekbench 5 results (here's the fifth) for the fifth-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro with the M1 chip, the device has average single-core and multi-core scores of...
prosser macbook air colors stacked

Images Reveal Colorful New MacBook Air Design

Tuesday May 11, 2021 5:06 am PDT by
Apple's next MacBook Air will feature a completely new design and come in a range of colors like the 24-inch iMac, according to leaker Jon Prosser, who has now released supposedly accurate renders of the new machines based on leaked images. In a new video uploaded to YouTube channel Front Page Tech, Prosser elaborated on his previous prediction that Apple's next-generation MacBook Air models ...
iPhone 13 Camera Backs

iPhone 13 Models Will Be Slightly Thicker and Will Have Larger Camera Bumps

Monday May 10, 2021 10:41 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming iPhone 13 models will be slightly thicker than the iPhone 12 models and will also feature larger, thicker camera bumps with lenses that protrude less, according to iPhone 13 schematics seen by MacRumors. The new iPhone 13 and 13 Pro models are expected to feature a thickness of 7.57mm, up from 7.4mm in the iPhone 12 models. That's an increase of 0.17mm, which won't be hugely ...