Facebook Shares User Data With Several Chinese Companies

Eric Lieberman | Tech and Law Reporter

Facebook admitted Tuesday that it shares data with four Chinese tech giants — at least one of which has strong connections to China’s government — leading to substantial privacy concerns.

Through an official partnership, Facebook provided Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications equipment corporation, special access to certain social media users’ data since at least 2010, according to The New York Times.

Top U.S. officials, like intelligence officers and influential lawmakers, have accused Huawei, as well as others in the industry in China like ZTE, of either breaking accords or engaging in highly suspicious behavior, specifically by illicitly distributing American resources to countries like Iran and North Korea.

A 2012 investigative report from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence enumerated strong reservations about Huawei and ZTE. The U.S. government announced in April that it is banning American companies from committing to certain business deals with ZTE particularly, but Huawei is often lumped into the same category as a Chinese firm that has a paternalistic relationship with its government.

Facebook, along with Huawei, has partnerships with China-based Lenovo, Oppo and TCL, which could conceivably also have a submissive relationship with a government that often seeks substantial oversight of those that operate domestically. Facebook officials told The NYT that it expects to end its deal with Huawei very soon.

The most recent revelations come just a couple of days after The NYT reported that it gives access to other manufacturers like Blackberry, Amazon, South Korea-based Samsung, and Apple, a U.S.-based company that also tries to curry favor with the Chinese government. (RELATED: Facebook Is Gunning For An Office In China, Says Report)

Facebook insists that data given to Huawei remained on phones, rather than company servers. The ostensible disclosures from Facebook comes after lawmakers casted doubt on Facebook’s relationships and intentions, even those specific to America’s foreign adversary.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia asked Tuesday if “our personal info reside[s] on a server in China?”

“I think Facebook owes us that answer,” he said at an Axios event, according to The Hill.

Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said something similar, reportedly demanding Facebook hand over details about their partnerships to Congress.

“Facebook is learning hard lessons that meaningful transparency is a high standard to meet,” said Thune, head of the Senate Commerce Committee, TheNYT reported. (RELATED: Facebook Spent Millions Lobbying The Government Over The Years. Has It Been A Total Waste?)

Despite all of these concerns, which follow a spate of incidents that led to a cascade of deep-seated public backlash, Facebook defended its choice.

“Huawei is the third-largest mobile manufacturer globally,” Francisco Varela, Facebook’s vice president of mobile partnerships, told Bloomberg. “And its devices are used by people all around the world, including in the United States.”

Facebook, like other companies in America, has long tried to establish friendly relations with China for some time to capture or at least help serve the massive market in some way.

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