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Facebook shared data with a Chinese company that U.S. intel calls a national security threat

“This could be a very big problem”

by David Gilbert
Jun 6 2018, 11:00am

Getty Images

Facebook faces yet more scrutiny from Washington after it confirmed Tuesday it had shared user data with four Chinese companies, including telecommunications manufacturer Huawei, which the U.S. government has labeled a national security threat.

The New York Times revealed Sunday that Facebook had signed data-sharing deals with up to 60 manufacturers — including of Apple, Amazon, and Samsung devices — that were still in effect, despite claiming they had been cut off since 2015.

The social network said Tuesday the list also included Huawei, computer maker Lenovo, and smartphone makers TCL and Oppo.

Congress has long been voicing its concerns about Huawei, and earlier this year the NSA, FBI and CIA all warned consumers not to buy electronics from the company over over potential “backdoors” in the products that would allow the Chinese government to spy on U.S. users.

Huawei and the Chinese government have always denied any such collusion.

The deal with Huawei, inked as far back as 2010, is set to be terminated by the end of the week, Facebook said — but that will do little to placate lawmakers in Washington.

“This could be a very big problem,” Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted. “If Facebook granted Huawei special access to social data of Americans, this might as well have given it directly to the government of China.”

Sen. Mark Warner, who is vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and who has been working closely with tech companies during the Russia investigation, told Axios that “Facebook is a great company, but we're seeing this pattern repeated.”

The latest revelation comes after months of negative stories about the social network, starting with the Cambridge Analytica scandal in February. Since then Facebook has failed to offer full transparency about the scope of its data sharing practices.

READ: Apple really is starting a war with Facebook over privacy

Warner had some advice for Facebook: “Come clean with the whole story in the first 24 hours. Don't let this dribble out. And I've got some very serious questions, particularly because of the ongoing threat that these Chinese telecom companies pose.”

Facebook hit back at the concerns being expressed by Warner and Rubio, with Francisco Varela, who heads mobile partnerships, saying in a statement: “Given the interest from Congress, we wanted to make clear that all the information from these integrations with Huawei was stored on the device, not on Huawei's servers.”

It was reported by the Times over the weekend that some of the data pulled from Facebook by device makers had been stored on the manufacturers own servers.

Facebook’s CEO withstood 10 hours of grilling on Capitol Hill in April over the misuse of user data by Cambridge Analytica, but the latest revelation means he could be recalled to answer further questions about how the company protects its customers’ most intimate information.

Cover image: Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc. attends the Viva Tech start-up and technology gathering at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 24, 2018 in Paris, France. (Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)