Facebook has a data-sharing partnership with four Chinese firms, including one previously flagged as a security threat by U.S. intelligence.
Earlier this week it was reported that Facebook had given its user data to up to 60 device makers, including giants like Apple, Samsung and Microsoft, over the last decade. This allowed those device makers to improve access to Facebook on their products at a time when Facebook’s mobile app was still developing.
In return, Facebook provided device makers with users’ personal information and their friends’ personal information, including political leanings, relationship status, and events they planned to attend.
All this is bad enough, but then, on Tuesday The New York Times reported that those data-sharing partnerships included the Chinese firms Huawei, Oppo, TCL, and Lenovo.
The fact that Huawei was sharing data is of particular concern, since a 2012 House Intelligence Committee report warned that Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE posed a security threat to the United States, partly due to their cushy relationships with the Chinese government. The panel also warned that it had credible intelligence that Huawei had a history of bribery, corruption, and copyright infringement.
“If I were an American company today … and you are looking at Huawei, I would find another vendor,” former U.S. Rep. Mike Rodgers (R – MI) told 60 Minutes at the time. “If you care about your intellectual property, if you care about your consumers’ privacy, and you care about the national security of the United States of America.”
This week, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said that the latest revelation that Huawei was among the device makers Facebook gave access to raised “legitimate concerns.”
Facebook, however, pushed back against claims that the data might have been misused. Francisco Varela, vice-president of Facebook’s mobile-partnerships, said that the data integrations were “controlled from the get-go” and that the company approved of the Facebook experiences that the device makers had created.
Ever since Facebook was blocked in China in 2009, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been doing his utmost to get back into the good graces of Chinese officials, granting him access to China’s 700 million internet users — human rights concerns be damned. Facebook has courted Chinese officials, developed government-friendly technology and, last September, reportedly began scouting for office space in Shanghai. In 2017, prior to the Cambridge Analytica story breaking, analysts believed Facebook was nearly ready to set up shop in China.
Facebook’s China strategy and its willingness to work with, and potentially supply user data to, an authoritarian government is emblematic of an approach highlighted by a leaked internal Facebook memo, which said the company’s aim was growth at all costs.
“We connect people. Period,” Facebook executive Andrew “Boz” Bosworth wrote in a June 2016 memo first obtained by Buzzfeed. “That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends … The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it.”
“Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated by our tools. And still we connect people,” Bozworth continued. “The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is de facto good.”