Another shoe dropped in the New York Times investigation of Facebook’s deals with phone makers across the world: A Chinese connection emerged, touching the data scandal to the politically electric topic of the United States’ biggest economic rival.
Beginning in 2007, Facebook cut deals with 60 phone manufacturers to put versions of the service onto their devices, and among those companies were four Chinese manufacturers, including Huawei, which U.S. intelligence services have repeatedly linked to the Chinese government. Earlier this year, the heads of the NSA, FBI, and CIA warned against using Huawei phones.
Also in 2007, Bain Capital, the U.S. networking company 3com, and Huawei proposed a multibillion-dollar deal, only to be scuppered by U.S. officials over security concerns. That is to say, this was a concern Facebook knew or should have known even back in the era when these deals were negotiated.
Facebook maintains that Huawei stored Facebook data locally on devices, and did not send it to the company’s own servers, where presumably it would have been more open to collection by Chinese authorities.
Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Warner both voiced their displeasure over the revelation. Even before the new Times story came out, Warner, who has been tussling with Facebook for the past year, had already pointed out that Chinese companies were probably among the 60 device manufacturers that Facebook cut deals with to develop versions of their service for those phones. “I believe it’s a serious danger,” he said. “I’ve been disappointed we’ve not gotten a straight answer.” Warner tweeted that he wanted “the whole story, now, not six months from now.”