- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Chinese phone maker Huawei, a firm flagged by U.S. intelligence officials as a national security threat, on Wednesday said it neither collected nor stored user data Facebook provided as part of a partnership with the social media giant.

Huawei spokesman Joe Kelly said the arrangement was about making Facebook’s services more convenient for users, particularly for older phones.

The recent revelation that Facebook has data-sharing partnerships with at least four Chinese electronics companies, including telecom equipment firm Huawei, founded by former Chinese military officer Ren Zhengfei, is drawing sharp criticism from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee said CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to them earlier this year that he would improve security practices — but he failed to tell them his firm had data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device manufacturers.

“The bottom line is these revelations are yet another example of questionable business practices by Facebook that could undermine basic consumer privacy,” Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “Remember, less than two months ago, Mr. Zuckerberg appeared in front of our committee and apologized for his company’s negligence and pledged to do better.”

The latest reports, Mr. Nelson added, made it “hard to know what’s true anymore. And now we learn that Facebook gave Chinese companies believed to be national security risks access to user data. What in the world is next and what in the world is going to protect Americans’ personally identifiable private information?”

On Tuesday, Facebook’s vice-president of mobile partnerships, Francisco Varela, disclosed that the Silicon Valley-based firm has data-sharing partnerships with Chinese firms Huawei, Lenovo, OPPO and TCL.

Huawei is the third largest mobile manufacturer globally and its devices are used by people all around the world, including in the United States. 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, Facebook’s VP of mobile partnerships, said in a statement.

Huawei and its Shenzhen-based rival ZTE have been the subject of security concerns in the U.S. for years. In May, the Pentagon banned the sale of Huawei and ZTE phones on military bases, months after AT&T dropped a deal to sell a new Huawei smartphone.

Facebook has also spent months in the spotlight — initially for failing to stop a wave of Russian propaganda from abusing the social media platform during the 2016 presidential election — then for the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The now defunct British political research firm collected personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users and allegedly used it to attempt to influence voter opinion in elections. The ensuing controversy forced Mr. Zuckerberg to testify before Congress in April.

Earlier this week, Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune, South Dakota Republican, and Mr. Nelson, the committee’s ranking Democrat, demanded answers from Mr. Zuckerberg in a letter written in response to a New York Times report that the manufacturers who shared user data were able to access “user friends data” even if the friends had denied giving permission to share info with third parties.

In their letter, the senators asked if Facebook audited any of the data-sharing partnerships under a 2011 consent order imposed by the Federal Trade Commission, which required the firm to secure consumers’ “express consent” before sharing personal data with third parties. They also asked if Mr. Zuckerberg wanted to revise his testimony before the committee.

Meanwhile in London Wednesday, the former head of Cambridge Analytica clashed with British lawmakers investigating the use of Facebook data in election campaigns.

Alexander Nix told the U.K. Parliament’s media committee that while he was embarrassed at having been caught on camera boasting that he could entrap political figures by compromising them with bribes and Ukrainian women — he denied his firm acted unethically and insisted he was entrapped by unscrupulous, undercover journalists.

The firm filed for bankruptcy earlier this year after former employees alleged that it used personal information harvested from Facebook accounts to target voters during Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Mr. Nix’s testimony comes just days after U.K. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham told the European Parliament she was “deeply concerned” about the impact on democracy of the misuse of social media users’ personal information. She said legal systems had failed to keep up with the rapid development of the internet.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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