In June 2018, Facebook admitted that it shares data with at least four Chinese companies, including Huawei, despite the security risk.
The New York Times found that Facebook shares data with Huawei, Lenovo, and two Chinese smartphone manufacturers, TCL Corp and Oppo. The agreements date back to at least 2010, and granted private access to the data of the social media network’s users.
This is despite the fact that Huawei has been flagged as a serious security risk by the US government, for its deep ties to the Chinese authorities – the mobile phone company was founded by a former member of the People’s Liberation Army.
When the connections were discovered, Facebook said that the deal with Huawei would be halted within a week. FBI Director Chris Wray said the government was “deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.”
The deals were initially granted as part of a wider initiative from 2007. Before native Facebook apps were available for mobile users, the deal allowed mobile networks and companies to integrate some Facebook features into their phones, such as status updates and like buttons.
Huawei used its access to the data to create its own social media application, combining multiple social media accounts and messages all into one place.
Francisco Varela, the VP for Mobile Partnerships at Facebook, defended the company’s actions in a statement:
Facebook along with many other U.S. tech companies have worked with them and other Chinese manufacturers to integrate their services onto these phones. Facebook’s integrations with Huawei, Lenovo, OPPO and TCL were controlled from the get-go – and we approved the Facebook experiences these companies built… 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.
Further ties to Huawei were revealed in December 2018 – a second New York Times investigation discovered that Facebook had actually taken data FROM Huawei, and used it for the “People You May Know” feature.