Post the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Facebook is under immense scrutiny from the US and European lawmakers, especially over its data sharing practices with third parties. In the latest developments, Facebook confirmed that it partnered with at least four Chinese companies to let them access some users data.
One of the partner Chinese firms includes Huawei, which is under the radar of US intelligence agencies like NSA, CIA and FBI over security concerns. The New York Times was the first to report on Facebook’s data-sharing deals with over 60 smartphone makers. Here’s everything you need to know about the latest Facebook data problems.
Facebook shared data with some device makers: What was this all about?
Last week, The New York Times published a story about Facebook letting at least 60 device manufacturers including Amazon, Apple, BlackBerry and Samsung access user data, in some cases without explicit user permission. The story had quoted Facebook officials who allegedly said that the partnership with device manufacturers has been in place over the last decade. This partnership allegedly helped Facebook broaden its reach, with the help of device manufacturers by creating a Facebook-like experience in their UI itself. But the deals are now raising privacy concerns as well.
Which device makers were on the list ?
The social networking giant confirmed that they have partnered with certain Chinese device manufacturers like Huawei, Oppo, Lenovo and TCL. It should be noted that TCL now has the license to manufacturer BlackBerry devices. The other big names are Apple, Samsung, BlackBerry (when it was still manufacturing phones), Microsoft (when it had Windows-powered Lumia phones), etc.
In total, Facebook is believed to have partnered with 60 other companies worldwide, which were given access to certain user data. Facebook also said that they have opted out of the partnership with more than half of the companies. The company claims the partnership with Lenovo will be terminated later this week.
Why is this data-sharing likely to cause trouble for Facebook?
The revelations that Facebook had data-sharing deals with Chinese companies like Huawei, etc, will not
come as good news. US intelligence officials already have security concerns over these companies and Facebook’s partnership will see more questions being raised. According to a Reuters report, US Senator Mark Warner, who is vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said, “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.”
The problem is that in some cases user data was shared without explicit consent being given. Facebook claims the deals were legal and within the parameters of its consent decree signed with the US Federal Trade Commissions (FTC). But as the NYT investigation claimed, these device makers had access to details like political leanings, relationship status, friends list, and in some cases even access to the data of a user’s friends.
What has Facebook said on this so far?
A Facebook executive said that the company was careful about what data Chinese companies could access. “Facebook along with many other US tech companies have worked with them and other Chinese manufacturers to integrate their services onto these phones,” Francisco Varela, Vice President of Mobile Partnerships for Facebook said in a statement. The company said these integrations “were controlled from the get-go.” Varela also added that “given the interest from Congress, we wanted to make clear that all the information from these integrations with Huawei was stored on the device, not on Huawei’s servers.”
Facebook’s Ime Archibong, who is VP of Product Partnerships, also wrote a detailed blog post explaining why they disagreed with the NYT report. “These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences. Partners could not integrate the user’s Facebook features with their devices without the user’s permission,” he explained. Facebook says it has already ended 22 of these partnerships.
What have the device makers said on this report?
So far, the major public statement from a device maker on this Facebook data sharing deal has come from Apple’s Tim Cook. During an interview with NPR, Apple CEO said that partnership with Facebook was limited to letting Facebook users share photos directly from the camera, photos app and other such integrations. “We weren’t in the data business. We’ve never been in the data business,” he was quoted as saying.
With inputs from Reuters