Congress Presses Facebook On Data Sharing With Chinese Companies

After recent allegations that Facebook has been sharing users’ data with smartphone manufacturers, including Chinese companies, Congress members accused Facebook of not being transparent enough with them about these dealings in the Congressional hearings from this April.

Facebook Shares Data With Many Manufacturers

A recent New York Times report said that Facebook gave more than 60 smartphone manufacturers “deep access” to its users’ data over the past decade. Most of these partnerships seem to have remained in effect even today, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The NYT report said Facebook also made an exception for manufacturers when it said it would restrict third-party access to user data.

Facebook disagreed with the NYT's interpretation of the agreements between Facebook and device manufacturers, saying that the smartphone makers were bound by contract not to store the data on their servers, but only to provide the “Facebook experience” on users’ phones. However, as we already know, Cambridge Analytica was also bound by contract not to harvest users’ data the way it did, and yet that still happened.

Facebook Shares Data With Flagged Chinese Companies

Among those hardware partners, Facebook also shared its users’ data with at least four Chinese companies. Some of those companies, such as Huawei, have been flagged by U.S. national security agencies as untrustworthy.

Lenovo, Oppo, and TCL Corp were the other three companies. Lenovo has also been in hot waters in recent years by installing spyware on its laptops, while Oppo’s subsidiary, OnePlus, had a backdoor application installed on its phones.

Facebook said that that it has already ended many of the partnerships with manufacturers, and that it will also end the partnerships with the Chinese companies soon.

Congress Members Raise Concerns

Congress members, who seem unaware of Facebook’s dealings with all of these companies, including the ones in China, are concerned that Facebook has been putting users’ data at risk.

Senator Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement:

“The news that Facebook provided privileged access to Facebook’s API to Chinese device makers like Huawei and TCL raises legitimate concerns, and I look forward to learning more about how Facebook ensured that information about their users was not sent to Chinese servers.”

Senators John Thune and Bill Nelson also sent a letter to Facebook inquiring about whether or not the data access it gave to manufacturers fell under the 2011 settlement with the FTC. The Senators also wanted to know how exactly Facebook ensured that the manufacturers weren’t misusing their data access.

Senator Ed Markey, who recently co-sponsored the GDPR-like “CONSENT Act,” also said the following on Twitter:

“Mark Zuckerberg needs to return to Congress and testify why @facebook shared Americans’ private information with questionable Chinese companies. Our privacy and national security cannot be the cost of doing business.”

According to Congressional staff, Facebook still hasn’t responded to the hundreds of written questions it received back in April.  

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