U.S. lawmakers press Facebook over Chinese data sharing
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two key U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday rebuked Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:) for not being more transparent over its data sharing after the social media giant said it had collaborated with at least four Chinese companies, including a smartphone maker that has raised U.S. security concerns.
The top Republican and Democrat on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee said Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg should have disclosed those partnerships when he appeared before them in April.
“Clearly, the company’s partnerships with Chinese technology companies and others should have been disclosed before Congress and the American people,” the panel’s Republican chairman Greg Walden and ranking Democrat Frank Pallone said in a statement.
“We strongly encourage full transparency from Facebook and the entire tech community,” they wrote.
On Tuesday, Facebook said Huawei Technologies Co Ltd , computer maker Lenovo Group, and smartphone makers OPPO and TCL Corp were among about 60 companies worldwide that received access to some user data after they signed contracts to re-create Facebook-like experiences for their users.
Huawei, the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, has come under scrutiny from U.S. intelligence agencies who argue that Chinese telecommunications companies provide an opportunity for foreign espionage and threaten critical U.S. infrastructure, something the Chinese have consistently denied.
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, a Democrat, said in a post on Twitter on Wednesday that he would close his Facebook page.
“What Facebook did will likely result in imprisonment or other punishment of Chinese young people. Facebook is amoral. It’s all about the money for them,” he wrote.
Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, said on Twitter: “Mark Zuckerberg needs to return to Congress and testify why @facebook shared Americans’ private information with questionable Chinese companies.”
He sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday asking them to call Zuckerberg to testify.
Facebook said on Tuesday it would end the Huawei pact this week, was ending the other three Chinese partnerships, and that more than half the partnerships had already been wound down.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman had no comment on the companies’ agreements.
Members of Congress expressed concern after The New York Times reported that the data of users’ friends could have been accessed without their explicit consent. Facebook denied that and said the data access was to allow its users to access account features on mobile devices.
The Federal Trade Commission, which settled with Facebook in 2011 over its information-sharing practices, declined comment on these most recent allegations.
In a separate letter on Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee also pressed Facebook for more information, while the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat urged Facebook to release further details.
Facebook said it would address the Commerce Committee’s questions.
Congressional staff have said the company still has not answered hundreds of questions from lawmakers after Zuckerberg’s testimony before two committees in April.
Several congressional aides said members of Congress were waiting for Facebook’s answers before deciding whether to hold additional hearings.
Other companies that have used Facebook data sharing include Amazon.com Inc (NASDAQ:), Apple Inc (NASDAQ:), HTC Corp, Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:) and Samsung Electronics (KS:) Co Ltd, Facebook has said.
Several countries are scrutinizing the social network after it failed to protect the data of some 87 million users that was shared with now-defunct political data firm Cambridge Analytica.
(This version of the story corrects paragraph 5 to insert ticker for Huawei Technologies instead of Huawei Culture and adds full company name. The error also occurred in updates 1 and 2)