Facebook gave user data to Huawei, suspected of Chinese government links

by Lawrence Cooper June 6, 2018, 6:11
Facebook gave user data to Huawei, suspected of Chinese government links

Facebook Inc said Tuesday it has data sharing partnerships with at least four Chinese companies including Huawei, the world's third largest smartphone maker, which has come under scrutiny from USA intelligence agencies on security concerns.

Senator Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who asked Facebook if Huawei was among the companies that received user data, said in a statement that the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee had raised concerns about Huawei dating back in 2012. The practice, first revealed over the weekend, is now confirmed to have included relationships with Chinese companies Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo and TCL, according to The New York Times.

The partnerships allowed the devices to access information from "users and all of their friends - including work and education history, relationship status and likes".

The confirmation that Chinese device makers, especially Huawei, were among the manufacturers with access to user data raised even more questions among USA lawmakers about how the information was stored and used. However, it's not obvious Facebook could be certain about this, and the fact that these relationships remained undisclosed for so long raises questions about the company's trustworthiness.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, says he wants to know how Facebook ensured data was not transferred to Chinese servers.

Cody Fenwick is a reporter and editor.

The four partnerships are among the roughly 60 that Facebook struck with device manufacturers starting in 2007 so they could recreate the Facebook service on their devices, a Facebook spokeswoman said. It does not appear that Facebook data was ever stored on Huawei servers, only directly on devices.

Facebook's partnerships with device makers could ultimately spell more trouble for the tech giant at the Federal Trade Commission, a United States watchdog agency that's already investigating the company for a series of other privacy mishaps.

By one measure it is now the world's biggest telecom equipment maker, not only selling phones but also key pieces of network infrastructure.

Senators John Thune, the committee's Republican chairman, and Bill Nelson, the ranking Democrat, on Tuesday wrote to Zuckerberg after The New York Times reported that manufacturers were able to access data of users' friends even if the friends denied permission to share the information with third parties.

Some U.S. lawmakers, many of whom were already critical of Facebook's response to earlier inquiries into the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, have been skeptical of Facebook's explanations of its latest purported data lapse, and demanded more accountability.

Facebook announced in April it was winding down the partnerships.

Earlier in the day, the Senate Commerce Committee addressed a letter to Facebook over the broader issue of these manufacturer relationships and questioning Facebook's assertion that the shared data was not abused. Facebook also stressed that numerous 60 device makers - which it did not name in full - didn't store the data on their own servers.

A spokesman for the FTC has declined to indicate if it is investigating Facebook's arrangements with device makers. "These partners signed agreements that prevented people's Facebook information from being used for any other objective than to recreate Facebook-like experiences".

Facebook had already said in April that it was dismantling the device-maker data partnerships, following a review of information-sharing agreements sparked by the Cambridge Analytica crisis.

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