Chinese phone maker Huawei denies collecting Facebook user data

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Huawei has denied collecting data from Facebook users after the social media giant confirmed that the Chinese phone maker deemed a national security threat by the US was among companies given access to user information.

Huawei was able to access Facebook data to get the leading social network to perform on its smartphones, the California-based company said.

“Facebook along with many other US tech companies have worked with them and other Chinese manufacturers to integrate their services onto these phones,” Facebook mobile partnerships leader Francisco Varela said in a statement on Tuesday.

“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.”

Before now-ubiquitous apps standardised the social media experience on smartphones, some 60 device makers including Amazon, Apple and Blackberry worked with Facebook to adapt interfaces for its website to their own phones, the social network said.

Facebook, which has been blocked in China since 2009, also had data-access deals with Chinese companies Lenovo, OPPO and TCL, according to Varela.

“Facebook’s integrations with Huawei, Lenovo, OPPO and TCL were controlled from the get-go,” Varela said.

Huawei said its cooperation with Facebook was to improve user services and denied collecting or storing user data.

“Like all leading smartphone providers, Huawei worked with Facebook to make Facebook’s services more convenient for users,” Huawei told AFP, adding that it “has never collected or stored any Facebook user data”.

Huawei has long disputed any links to the Chinese government, noting that its infrastructure and computing products are used in 170 countries.

“Concerns about Huawei aren’t new,” US Senator Mark Warner, vice chairman of the senate select committee on intelligence, said Tuesday.

“I look forward to learning more about how Facebook ensured that information about their users was not sent to Chinese servers.”

Contracts with phone makers placed tight limits on what could be done with data, and “approved experiences” were reviewed by engineers and managers before being deployed, according to the social network.

Facebook said it does not know of any privacy abuse by phone makers who years ago were able to gain access to personal data on users and their friends.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she would not comment on cooperation between companies because she was unaware of the details.

“But I hope that the US can provide a fair, transparent, open and friendly environment for the investments and business activities of Chinese companies,” Hua told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

– Done with deals –
Facebook is winding up the interface arrangements with device makers as the company’s smartphone apps now dominate the service. The integration partnership with Huawei will terminate by the end of this week, according to the social network.

Facebook said it “disagreed” with the conclusions of a New York Times report that found that the device makers could access information on users’ friends without their explicit consent.

But the report raised concerns that massive databases on users and their friends — including personal data and photographs — could be in the hands of device makers.

Huawei maintains that its products “meet the highest standards of security, privacy and engineering in every country we operate” and that “no government has ever asked us to compromise the security or integrity of any of our networks or devices”.

The social network came under attack early this year over British political consultant Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of personal data on 87 million Facebook users and their friends.

Cambridge Analytica obtained the data without Facebook’s permission and used it to help the election campaign of US President Donald Trump.

In April, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized in Congress over the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, amid rising calls for more regulation of the company.