Facebook has been struggling with privacy breach issues publicly for the last few months, ever since it was discovered that the data of at least 87 million users, and potentially far more, had been shared with consulting firm Cambridge Analytica and was subsequently used to create right-leaning targeted ads during the 2016 presidential election. Now, it looks like user information was spread much further.
Facebook users' data has been shared with companies that have been previously flagged by the U.S. Government, the New York Times reports. The company had data-sharing agreements with various Chinese electronics companies dating back to 2010 that gave private access to user data. One of the companies, Huawei, was flagged by U.S. intelligence as a national security threat.
The agreements gave multiple mobile device manufacturers, also including Blackberry, Samsung, and Apple, access to Facebook's platform starting in 2007, before the social network's mobile app functioned well on every device. Huawei reportedly used its access, which included detailed information on users and their friends' religious and political beliefs, work, and education history, to send data to a separate app that allows users to see multiple social media accounts in one place.
While Facebook insists that any such data was saved on the phone itself and not Huawei servers, the company's connection to the Chinese Communist Party has been a cause for concern since at least 2012, when Virginia Senator Mark Warner shared his concerns in a congressional report. "I look forward to learning more about how Facebook ensured that information about their users was not sent to Chinese servers," he said.
According to Facebook vice president Francisco Varela, there's nothing to worry about. "All Facebook’s integrations with Huawei... were controlled from the get-go — and Facebook approved everything that was built," he said. "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."
Considering the already damaged public perception of the social media platform, the mere possibility that user data may effectively be in the hands of a foreign government may be enough for more users to get rid of their accounts altogether, despite an uptick in users in April.