Facebook shared user data with Chinese company identified as posing a national security threat

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Raise your hand if Facebook shared user data with you — because the list keeps growing.

Days after learning the company had shared user information with at least 60 different device makers — including Apple, Samsung, Blackberry, Microsoft and Amazon — more names from that list have surfaced. The list includes Chinese device makers Lenovo, Oppo, TCL and Huawei. US intelligence officials flagged Huawei as a potential national security threat as far back as 2012, reports The New York Times.

According to the report, the partnerships are still in effect, but Facebook says it will be “winding down” its relationship with Huawei by the end of this week.

“Facebook officials said the agreements with the Chinese companies allowed them access similar to what was offered to BlackBerry, which could retrieve detailed information on both device users and all of their friends — including religious and political leanings, work and education history and relationship status,” says the Times story.

Facebook told the Times that the data it shared with Huawei remained on Huawei phone devices, but was not saved on Huawei’s company servers. Shortly after the New York Times story published, the Associated Press reported Huawei claims its arrangement with Facebook was about making Facebook services more convenient for users, and that it never collected or stored user data.

Facebook VP of Mobile Partnerships Francisco Varela told the Times that all of the company’s integrations with Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo and TCL were “controlled from the get go” and that Facebook approved everything the Chinese tech companies built.

As we now know, since learning about Cambridge Analytica’s exploitation of Facebook user information, Facebook isn’t all that reliable when it comes to handling user data. The fact that Facebook says it had oversight approval of systems built by the Chinese firms using Facebook technology doesn’t mean the social platform necessarily paid close attention to what Huawei and others were doing with the user data they had access to.

The latest disclosures will bring Facebook renewed scrutiny from Washington. “I look forward to learning more about how Facebook ensured that information about their users was not sent to Chinese servers,” Virginia Senator Mark Warner, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Times.

After announcing it was suspending Cambridge Analytica in March of this year for using an app to gain access to user data, Facebook has since confirmed that the analytics company harvested information from more than 80 million Facebook users. Shortly after the Cambridge Analytica news broke, Facebook briefly halted its app review process to investigate apps on the platform. Last month, Facebook said it had suspended 200 more apps for possible misuse of data after auditing thousands.

Earlier this week, Facebook faced more scrutiny when news broke that it had data-sharing relationships with approximately 60 device makers. Facebook says that the partnership with the device-maker companies was not problematic because its agreements with the companies “… prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences.”

Facebook also said it was not aware of any abuse by these companies, that it had already started winding down access to user data by device makers and had ended relationships with 22 of the 60 companies it had partnerships with. In other words, users simply have to trust Facebook’s pledge that no companies took advantage of the millions of user data points they were given access to — not the device makers, and definitely not foreign corporations flagged by US intelligence officials as posing a security threat.

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