A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 7, 2018

Face Facts: Facebook's Most Recent Scandals - Two In One Week - Won't Be It's Last

There were two new separate revelations about Facebook's data privacy practices this week: one on Monday and one Tuesday. Good thing there's only a day and a half left in the work week.

Like Uber, Facebook has a leadership-driven culture that is contemptuous of global norms and authority, not to mention its users' evolving concerns.

And like Uber, this will not change until its leaders, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, are removed and replaced. JL

Nicholas Confessore, Michael LaForgia and colleagues report in the New York Times, photo by AFP:

Facebook endured a new wave of criticism in the United States and Europe after disclosures on Monday (it) had allowed dozens of hardware manufacturers access to its trove of personal user data. Facebook has data-sharing partnerships with at least four Chinese electronics companies, including a manufacturing giant that has a close relationship with China’s government, the social media company said on Tuesday.
Article #1 Facebook endured a new wave of criticism from lawmakers and regulators in the United States and Europe on Monday after disclosures that the social media giant had allowed dozens of hardware manufacturers access to its trove of personal user data.
Just months after being forced to explain its privacy measures and pledging reforms in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook found itself on the defensive once again, fending off questions about whether company executives had misled elected officials and why it had not fully disclosed the data-sharing agreements during recent testimony in the United States and Europe.
The European authorities who last month enacted the world’s strictest data privacy law said Facebook’s sharing of personal information with cellphone makers and other manufacturers deserved further investigation. Germany’s top privacy regulator, Johannes Caspar, called Facebook’s partnerships “an unprecedented violation of privacy laws and user trust.”
And New York’s attorney general, Barbara Underwood, said her office would expand its investigation of Facebook’s data practices to include Facebook’s sharing with hardware manufacturers.

The broad scope of Facebook’s data partnerships — with Apple, Samsung, Amazon and other companies that make or sell phones, tablets, televisions and video game consoles — was reported by The New York Times on Sunday, showing that Facebook had exempted at least 60 hardware makers from restrictions imposed on other companies in 2015. Those restrictions were intended to prevent games and other apps from gaining access to the Facebook information of their customers’ friends.
“I’m extremely concerned that we are just now learning that even more personal user data was provided without consent,” said Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and one of the lawmakers who questioned Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, at a hearing in April.
Mr. Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have repeatedly cited the 2015 restrictions to assure policymakers that no outside company could again harvest swaths of personal information without the explicit consent of users, as a contractor for Cambridge Analytica did in 2014. But Facebook officials said this week that they did not consider hardware partners to be outside companies, under the terms of Facebook’s privacy policies and a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission.
When Facebook delivers data to a partner device, a Facebook executive said in a statement posted on the company’s website Sunday night, the device maker effectively functions as an extension of Facebook. And when Facebook users decide to share photos or phone numbers with their friends, they also consent to having that information flow to any partner devices their friends use.
“Friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends,” said the executive, Ime Archibong. “We are not aware of any abuse by these companies.”
But some American lawmakers criticized Facebook’s rationale and urged the F.T.C. to review whether the partnerships violated Facebook’s promises to the regulator.
“I think this explanation is completely inadequate and potentially disingenuous,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and ranking member of the Senate subcommittee charged with consumer protection. “I think Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony raises very serious and severe questions about Facebook’s credibility.”
David Cicilline of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the House antitrust subcommittee, responded even more harshly.
“Sure looks like Zuckerberg lied to Congress about whether users have ‘complete control’ over who sees our data on Facebook,” Mr. Cicilline wrote on Twitter.
Senior Republicans also said the partnerships merited further review.
Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, said in a statement that The Times’s reporting “raises important questions about transparency and potential privacy risks for Facebook users.” Mr. Thune said the Senate Commerce Committee, of which he is chairman, would seek more information from Facebook.
The F.T.C. is already investigating whether the access to friends’ data that Facebook allowed until 2015 violated the terms of its earlier consent decree with the regulator. Rohit Chopra, a current F.T.C. commissioner, declined to comment on any specific company or investigation, but said he believed that the commission would act to enforce any agreements it had with companies.
“Too often, sensitive consumer data gets shared and copied over and over again to a point of no return,” Mr. Chopra said. “F.T.C. orders are not suggestions. When companies violate them, there can be serious consequences.”

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in March, Facebook executives, including Mr. Zuckerberg, have appeared before officials in Washington, London and Brussels. But on Monday, Facebook leaders, including the company’s departing security chief, took to another social media platform — Twitter — to fend off criticism of its privacy policies. The company also addressed American lawmakers from its own Twitter account, saying that no users’ privacy had been violated by the data partnerships.
Other privacy experts also weighed in, including one engineer at Facebook’s advertising rival, Google. And executives at Apple — which took advantage of Facebook’s data-sharing until last year — took a swipe at Facebook’s privacy settings during a developer’s conference on Monday.
During the event’s keynote address, Craig Federighi, an Apple senior vice president, unveiled a new feature that will let Apple users more easily control what sort of information is shared with Facebook and other social media companies.
Mr. Federighi chose to demonstrate the new feature onstage by showing Apple’s Safari browser open to a webpage. Above it, a pop-up graphic appeared.
“Do you want to allow ‘facebook.com’ to use cookies and website data while browsing ‘blabbermouth.net’?” the pop-up read.

Article #2 Facebook has data-sharing partnerships with at least four Chinese electronics companies, including a manufacturing giant that has a close relationship with China’s government, the social media company said on Tuesday.
The agreements, which date to at least 2010, gave private access to some user data to Huawei, a telecommunications equipment company that has been flagged by American intelligence officials as a national security threat, as well as to Lenovo, Oppo and TCL.
The four partnerships remain in effect, but Facebook officials said in an interview that the company would wind down the Huawei deal by the end of the week.
Facebook gave access to the Chinese device makers along with other manufacturers — including Amazon, Apple, BlackBerry and Samsung — whose agreements were disclosed by The New York Times on Sunday.

The deals were part of an effort to push more mobile users onto the social network starting in 2007, before stand-alone Facebook apps worked well on phones. The agreements allowed device makers to offer some Facebook features, such as address books, “like” buttons and status updates.
Facebook officials said the agreements with the Chinese companies allowed them access similar to what was offered to BlackBerry, which could retrieve detailed information on both device users and all of their friends — including religious and political leanings, work and education history and relationship status.
Huawei used its private access to feed a “social phone” app that let users view messages and social media accounts in one place, according to the officials.
Facebook representatives said the data shared with Huawei stayed on its phones, not the company’s servers.
Senator John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who leads the Commerce Committee, has demanded that Facebook provide Congress with details about its data partnerships. “Facebook is learning hard lessons that meaningful transparency is a high standard to meet,” Mr. Thune said.
His committee also oversees the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating Facebook to determine whether the company’s data policies violate a 2011 consent decree with the commission.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia pointed out that concerns about Huawei were not new, citing a 2012 congressional report on the “close relationships between the Chinese Communist Party and equipment makers like Huawei.”
“I look forward to learning more about how Facebook ensured that information about their users was not sent to Chinese servers,” said Mr. Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
“All Facebook’s integrations with Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo and TCL were controlled from the get-go — and Facebook approved everything that was built,” said Francisco Varela, a Facebook vice president. “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.”
Banned in China since 2009, Facebook in recent years has quietly sought to re-establish itself there. The company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has tried to cultivate a relationship with China’s president, Xi Jinping, and put in an appearance at one of the country’s top universities.
Last year, Facebook released a photo-sharing app in China that was a near replica of its Moments app, but did not put its name on it. And the company has worked on a tool that allowed targeted censorship, prompting some employees to quit over the project.
Still, Facebook has struggled to gain momentum, and in January an executive in charge of courting China’s government left after spending three years on a charm campaign to get the social media service back in the country.

None of the Chinese device makers who have partnerships with Facebook responded to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Huawei, one of the largest smartphone manufacturers in the world, is a point of national pride for China and is at the vanguard of the country’s efforts to expand its influence abroad. The company was the recipient of billions of dollars in lines of credit from China’s state-owned policy banks, helping to fuel its overseas expansion in Africa, Europe and Latin America. Its founder, Ren Zhengfei, is a former engineer in the People’s Liberation Army.
The United States government has long regarded the company with suspicion, and lawmakers have recommended that American carriers avoid buying the network gear it makes. In January, AT&T walked away from a deal to sell a new Huawei smartphone, the Mate 10.
United States officials are investigating whether Huawei broke American trade controls by dealing with Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. The Trump administration has taken aim at Huawei and its rival ZTE in recent weeks, and in April the Federal Communications Commission advanced a plan to bar federally subsidized telecom companies from using suppliers that are considered national security threats.
Facebook has not entered into a data-sharing agreement with ZTE, officials at the social network said.
TCL, a consumer electronics firm, has accused the Trump administration of bias against Chinese companies and last June dropped a bid to buy a San Diego-based company that makes routers and other hardware.
Lenovo, a maker of computers and other devices, recently shelved ambitions to acquire BlackBerry after the Canadian government signaled that such a deal could compromise national security.


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