headquarters in Shenzhen, in China's Guangdong province.
(REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo)
allowed Huawei, a Chinese telecom company with alleged ties to
the country’s government, to have special access to data about
the social site’s users, according to a person familiar with
the matter but not authorized to speak on the record. Such a
special arrangement could stoke fears that consumers’ personal
information is at risk.
relationship between Facebook and Huawei was one of the special
agreements brokered between the social giant and device
makers over the past decade that
sought to make it easier for Facebook users to access site
services on a wide array of technologies.
years, lawmakers in Congress and top U.S. national security
officials have raised red flags about the security of Huawei
products, fearing that the Chinese government could demand
access to communications stored on their devices or servers.
The company has denied the charges, but the Pentagon took the
rare step this year of banning sales of Huawei
smartphones on U.S. military bases.
firm with suspected close ties to the Chinese government, ZTE,
is not believed to have had a relationship with Facebook, the
person said. It does not appear that Facebook data was ever
stored on Huawei servers, only directly on devices.
spokesman for Huawei did not immediately respond to a request
for comment. Facebook late Tuesday confirmed that it had
worked with Huawei, as well as three other Chinese
firms, Lenovo, OPPO and TCL. Facebook said those
arrangements were "controlled from the get go — and we
approved the Facebook experiences these companies built."
statement followed a day of silence about its relationships
with Chinese firms, which drew a sharp
rebuke from Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. In
response, Warner said in a
statement Tuesday that Facebook's relationships
with Huawei and TCL raise "legitimate concerns, and
I look forward to learning more about how Facebook ensured
that information about their users was not sent to Chinese
and other social media sites are facing scrutiny over
their privacy settings. Here's how you can keep your
data private and why you should care.
total, Facebook has said it struck special data-sharing deals
with roughly 60 device makers, including more recognizable
names, like Apple, HTC and Samsung. Through legal agreements
and Facebook-supplied code, these and other manufacturers
could directly access Facebook data so that their customers
could more seamlessly perform tasks like syncing their
contacts or accessing their message histories on devices
ranging from smartphones to smart televisions.
Facebook’s eyes, the partnerships were merely an extension of
services it already offered. In a blog post Monday, company
executives said the arrangements were necessary in the early
days of the mobile ecosystem, when not every smartphone
company offered an app store. Facebook also stressed that many
of the 60 device makers – which it did not name in full –
didn’t store the data on their own servers. While the social
giant quietly began unwinding the program in April, it said it
had no indication any Facebook data had been misused.
privacy experts, however, Facebook’s behind-the-scenes
arrangements may have happened without users’ full knowledge
or consent. Some seized on a report from The New York Times
that found at least one of Facebook’s device partners,
BlackBerry, had an older smartphone that could access Facebook
data about device owners as well as their friends, and their
friends’ friends, even seemingly in cases where Facebook users
had barred such sharing. In response, BlackBerry stressed in a
statement: “At no time did BlackBerry collect or mine the
Facebook data of our customers.”
partnerships with device makers could ultimately spell more
trouble for the tech giant at the Federal Trade Commission, a
U.S. watchdog agency that’s already investigating the company
for a series of other privacy mishaps. Because Facebook has
misled consumers on its data-use policies in the past – and
previously been punished by the FTC – the company could face
sky-high fines if the agency finds it has erred again.
spokesman for the FTC has declined to indicate if it is
investigating Facebook’s arrangements with device makers.