National Security

Facebook Embroiled in Another Data Sharing Controversy, This Time with China

We regret to inform you that Facebook is at it again. On Tuesday, Facebook revealed that it had been providing access to user data to multiple Chinese device manufacturers, to include Huawei, a company that United States intelligence agencies have called a security threat for years. Facebook defends its actions, saying that the partnerships were required to help create better user experiences on a wide range of devices.

Controversy over sharing user data is not new to the social media giant. Facebook has been under fire over the last few months after being exposed for doing exactly what critics had been warning consumers about for years: treating your personal information as their own property. This should really come as no surprise to anyone, as when a product or service is free, it is the consumer that is the commodity. We saw the outrage over Facebook seemingly culminate with Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress back in April, focusing on how Facebook handles user data. Zuck and his company seemed to get through this gauntlet relatively unscathed, with a significant dip in stock prices. However, these latest revelations are sure to get both users and lawmakers riled again.

Almost a decade ago, Facebook entered into device-sharing partnerships with companies that manufacture mobile phones and tablets so that, in theory, their agencies could use this information to develop ways to integrate Facebook into each one of their devices. Over the years, around 60 companies entered into this agreement with Facebook and developed ways to expand the social media company’s reach in the days before app stores and marketplaces.

It has been alleged that these partnerships could be breaching a 2011 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decree that prevented Facebook from granting outside companies access to their users’ data without the user’s explicit consent.  Facebook insisted that they hadn’t done anything wrong by violating this decree, because the partnerships were “built on common interest” and that many companies had also violated the explicit consent requirement.

“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform,” a Facebook statement reported in August 2017.

Out of the four Chinese manufacturers involved, Huawei is the company generating the most controversy. The difference between Huawei and companies like Apple and Samsung is that the United States government claims that Huawei poses a security threat, with allegations that the Chinese government has access to Huawei’s devices and can utilize them to collect intelligence on U.S. citizens both at home and abroad.

While Huawei has denied collecting or storing user data and says that “like all leading smartphone providers, Huawei [is] working with Facebook to make Facebook’s services more convenient for users,” it is somewhat ironic in light of the fact that Facebook has been blocked inside mainland China for years. It is no secret that Facebook has been seeking ways to break back into the Chinese market, a move that would most likely result in Facebook having to sacrifice user privacy inside China in order to allow the Communist regime to monitor citizens using the website.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Adam P

Adam is an Army Special Operations veteran, with over ten years of active duty service and multiple combat and training deployments to various locations throughout the world.

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