Social media firm Facebook reportedly used data obtained from the Chinese company Huawei, which has been referred to as a “security threat” by U.S. intelligence, for the platform’s “People You May Know” feature.
A recent report from the New York Times reveals that Facebook formed “data partnerships” with companies such as Microsoft, Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, and Yahoo, granting these companies access to vast amounts of user data. What the report from the New York Times further revealed was that Facebook also used data collected by companies such as Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei for their own products and features.
The Times report reveals that Facebook used user data from Amazon, Yahoo and Huawei for their “People You May Know” feature. The report states:
The Times reviewed more than 270 pages of reports generated by the system — records that reflect just a portion of Facebook’s wide-ranging deals. Among the revelations was that Facebook obtained data from multiple partners for a controversial friend-suggestion tool called “People You May Know.”
The feature, introduced in 2008, continues even though some Facebook users have objected to it, unsettled by its knowledge of their real-world relationships. Gizmodo and other news outlets have reported cases of the tool’s recommending friend connections between patients of the same psychiatrist, estranged family members, and a harasser and his victim.
Facebook, in turn, used contact lists from the partners, including Amazon, Yahoo and the Chinese company Huawei — which has been flagged as a security threat by American intelligence officials — to gain deeper insight into people’s relationships and suggest more connections, the records show.
In February, the heads of six major intelligence organizations issued a warning in relation to Chinese technology manufacturer Huawei and telecom company ZTE. The heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence all made a recommendation against using products produced by the tech companies at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
In a statement, FBI Director Chris Wray said that 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.” Wray added that this would give foreign governments “the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”
The US intelligence community has long been wary of Huawei, a Chinese tech firm founded by a former engineer from China’s People’s Liberation Army which has previously been described by US politicians as “effectively an arm of the Chinese government.” Huawei has been banned from bidding on US government contracts since 2014 as a result of warnings from US officials. However, the company’s consumer products manufacturing has increased in recent years. Last September Huawei surpassed Apple as the world’s second-biggest smartphone manufacturer, Samsung still holds the title of the largest.
The Times report also claims that Huawei wasn’t the only state-linked company with access to user data, Russian search giant Yandex was also listed as one of Facebook’s “integration partners.” The report states:
When The Times reported last summer on the partnerships with device makers, Facebook used the term “integration partners” to describe BlackBerry, Huawei and other manufacturers that pulled Facebook data to provide social-media-style features on smartphones. All such integration partners, Facebook asserted, were covered by the service provider exemption.
Since then, as the social network has disclosed its data sharing deals with other kinds of businesses — including internet companies such as Yahoo — Facebook has labeled them integration partners, too.
Facebook even recategorized one company, the Russian search giant Yandex, as an integration partner.
Facebook records show Yandex had access in 2017 to Facebook’s unique user IDs even after the social network stopped sharing them with other applications, citing privacy risks. A spokeswoman for Yandex, which was accused last year by Ukraine’s security service of funneling its user data to the Kremlin, said the company was unaware of the access and did not know why Facebook had allowed it to continue. She added that the Ukrainian allegations “have no merit.”
Read the full report from the New York Times here.