Facebook gave Huawei special access to user data

The Chinese telecommunications giant has been in the US government's crosshairs for security concerns.

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Facebook gave Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei special access to data about the social media giant's users, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

The agreement between Facebook and Huawei, which dates back to at least 2010, gave special data access to Huawei, a company perennially in the crosshairs of the US government, the Times reported, citing sources inside the social media giant. Facebook also has similar arrangements with Lenovo, Oppo and TCL, but plans to wind down the Huawei deal by the end of the week, a Facebook representative said, confirming the Times' report.

The arrangements came out of efforts to integrate the Facebook experience with mobile devices, something a Facebook representative called a "standard industry practice."

"Facebook's integrations with Huawei, Lenovo, OPPO and TCL were controlled from the get go -- and we approved the Facebook experiences these companies built," Francisco Varela, vice president of Facebook mobile partnerships, said in a statement. "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."

Hauwei echoed those comments in a statement Wednesday.

"Like all leading smartphone providers, Huawei worked with Facebook to make Facebook's services more convenient for users," the company said. "Huawei has never collected or stored any Facebook user data."

Facebook's arrangement with Huawei appears to be one of many the Times reported Sunday that the social media giant has in place to provide access to large amounts of user data to at least 60 different device makers -- including Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung and BlackBerry .

Huawei is the world's third-largest smartphone maker by volume, but it has struggled to make a dent in the US, partly because of concerns expressed by the government, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, the Federal Communications Commission and House Intelligence Committee

In February, FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the bureau was "deeply concerned" about the risks posed by Huawei and ZTE, a Chinese device maker on which the Commerce Department imposed a "denial of export privileges" in April.

Facebook has been under scrutiny since the revelation in March that consultancy Cambridge Analytica had misused Facebook user data in the lead up to the 2016 US presidential election. Since then, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has testified in front of Congress and the European Parliament to answer questions about Facebook's handling of user data.

In a test, a New York Times reporter logged into Facebook using a 2013 BlackBerry device, using an account with roughly 550 friends, monitoring the data requested and received. Through a BlackBerry app called The Hub, the device was able to acquire "identifying information" for up to 295,000 Facebook users.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed out that concerns about Huawei were not new, citing a 2012 congressional report on the "close relationships between the Chinese Communist Party and equipment makers like Huawei."

"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," Warner said in a statement.

Originally published June 5 at 5:05 p.m. PT.
Update, June 6 at 11:45 a.m. PT: Adds Huawei statement.

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