- Facebook has a data sharing agreement with Chinese telecom giant and cell phone manufacturer Huawei, reports the Washington Post.
- For years, U.S. intelligence officials have raised national security concerns about Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government.
- Facebook officials told The New York Times the arrangement was “controlled from the get-go,” and that no data was stored on Huawei servers.
- The partnership is reportedly still ongoing, but Facebook began winding down its device partnership program in April.
Facebook has a data sharing agreement with Huawei, a Chinese telecom giant and Android phone manufacturer that has raised national security concerns from U.S. intelligence officials about its alleged ties to the Chinese government, The Washington Post first reported Tuesday.
The deal, which according to The New York Times was brokered sometime before 2010, granted Huawei special access to Facebook user data, although it is unclear what specifically Huawei had access to and how it was used. We’ve reached out to Facebook for more information and will update when we hear back.
Facebook also has deals with three other Chinese companies: Lenovo, Oppo and TCL, according to The Times. Representatives for Huawei, Oppo, TCL, and Lenovo did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
“All Facebook’s integrations with Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo and TCL were controlled from the get-go — and Facebook approved everything that was built,” said Francisco Varela, a Facebook vice president, told The Times. “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.”
The data sharing deal is one of the partnership agreements Facebook had with over 60 device manufacturers, including Amazon, Apple, BlackBerry, HTC, Microsoft, and Samsung. The arrangement is still ongoing with Huawei and others, The Post reported, but Facebook begun quietly winding down its device partner program in April.
Facebook officials told The Times the deal Huawei is similar to its partnership with BlackBerry, which allowed the device maker to access user data such as relationship status, religion, political leanings, and events in order to make it easier to sync contacts between devices and apps. For instance, these integrations might have made it possible for the user of an older phone to upload a photo to their public Facebook profile, without using an app.
For years, US intelligence officials have worried about Huawei, and have even warned against US telecom companies from buying any of its network infrastructure. Most recently, the Pentagon banned Huawei smartphones at military bases, citing national security concerns.
This newest revelation is ill-timed for Facebook, which is facing renewed scrutiny from policymakers in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which as many as 87 million users had their personal information improperly obtained and used for targeting political ads. If Facebook is found to have violated its 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), it could face hefty fines.
“I look forward to learning more about how Facebook ensured that information about their users was not sent to Chinese servers,” Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, told The New York Times.
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