US lawmakers claim Mark Zuckerberg lied in testimony to Congress

‘It’s hard to know what’s true anymore’: US lawmakers slam Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook’s latest data scandal and claim the billionaire lied in testimony to Congress

  • It was revealed this week Facebook shared user data with 60 smartphone firms
  • News comes two months after the company’s Cambridge Analytica data scandal
  • Zuckerberg did not mention the phone deals in his recent testimony to Congress
  • Senators have criticised the billionaire for keeping the agreements secret
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US lawmakers have slammed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the wake of his firm’s latest data scandal, claiming the billionaire lied in his testimony to Congress.

It was revealed this week that Facebook handed over user data to 60 smartphone manufacturers – including a Chinese company flagged by US intelligence.

The news came just two months after Zuckerberg testified at Capitol Hill following the revelation his company had passed on the data of 87 million users to political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, many without their consent.

Now Senators have criticised the 34-year-old for not disclosing Facebook’s secret deals with smartphone companies during the recent testimony.

One lawmaker said Zuckerberg’s withholding of key information during the hearing meant it was ‘hard to know what’s true anymore’.

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US lawmakers have slammed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the wake of his firm’s latest data scandal, claiming the billionaire lied in testimony to Congress. Pictured is Zuckerberg during the testimony in April 

‘He never revealed these data-sharing agreements in our hearing in April,’ Florida Senator Bill Nelson said on the floor of the US Senate earlier this week.

‘As a result, it’s hard to know what’s true anymore.’

Facebook acknowledged on Tuesday that it had shared user data with 60 smartphones companies in deals that began as early as 2007.

Companies involved in the deals were allowed access to users’ relationship status, friends, likes, and more.

The list featured four Chinese phone manufacturers, including Huawei, which US intelligence experts have branded a ‘national security threat’.

FBI director Christopher Wray said he was ‘deeply concerned’ Huawei’s handsets have the ‘capacity to conduct undetected espionage’ on behalf of the Chinese government in a statement earlier this year.


It was revealed this week that Facebook handed over user data to 60 smartphone manufacturers – including Chinese company Huawei, which has been flagged by US intelligence. Pictured is the latest flagship smartphone from Huawei, the P20 Pro

US Senator Nelson pointed to Facebook’s deals with Huawei and a second Chinese firm, ZTE, as being of particular interest during his speech on Wednesday.

‘And now we learn that Facebook gave Chinese companies believed to be national security risks access to user data,’ he said.

‘What in the world is next? And what in the world is going to protect Americans’ personally identifiable private information?’

WHY ARE HUAWEI AND ZTE CONSIDERED A ‘NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT’?


Huawei P20 Pro (pictured) is the latest flagship phone from the Shenzhen-based company, which is now the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world

The heads of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and the director of US National Intelligence, have warned against the use of Huawei and ZTE smartphones.

Elsewhere, the Pentagon ordered all retail outlets on US military bases to stop selling Huawei and ZTE branded smartphones.

FBI director Chris Wray said the government was ‘deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.’

These concerns stem from the fact that both Huawei and ZTE have demonstrable links to the Chinese government.

Huawei founder and president Ren Zhengfei had a successful military career in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and ZTE has close financial ties to the Chinese government.

Other Chinese companies such as Lenovo, Xiaomi, and Oppo do not have the same ties and as such, haven’t drawn the same scrutiny from US politicians.

‘Huawei is effectively an arm of the Chinese government, and it’s more than capable of stealing information from U.S. officials by hacking its devices,” Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton said earlier this year.

‘There are plenty of other companies that can meet our technology needs, and we shouldn’t make it any easier for China to spy on us’.

However, there has yet to be any public evidence that Huawei or ZTE products could endanger the privacy or digital security of consumers.

Huawei and ZTE both dispute claims from the US government they pose a threat to national security.

A spokesperson for Huawei said: ‘Huawei is aware of a range of US government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei’s business in the US market.

‘Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities.’

In a statement, ZTE said: ‘As a publicly traded company, we are committed to adhering to all applicable laws and regulations of the United States, work with carriers to pass strict testing protocols, and adhere to the highest business standards.

‘ZTE takes cybersecurity and privacy seriously and remains a trusted partner to our US suppliers, US customers and the people who use our products.’

Senators sent Zuckerberg a letter on Tuesday asking the billionaire to make clear the nature of Facebook’s agreements with smartphone companies.

While the company ended the data deals in April, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is still unknown whether information was shared without user consent.

Zuckerberg was given a deadline of June 18 to respond. 

Facebook allowed Huawei and other manufacturers access to user data to enable social media features, like Facebook Messenger, on their devices.


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pictured testifying to a US House Committee about how the company handles users’ private data. The company has since confirmed it shared data with Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei 

These Facebook ‘experiences’ were used as a stop-gap until the social network could build a designated mobile app for the manufacturers’ operating system. 

Facebook will now wind down its dealings with Huawei, the Californian company confirmed in a statement to The New York Times this week.

Huawei is the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world.

The Shenzhen-based company has enjoyed huge success with its Android-powered smartphones, including the triple-camera touting P20 Pro, which launched back in March, and its exclusive £1,499 ($1,225) Porsche-design Mate handset.

WHY DID FACEBOOK HAVE DATA DEALS WITH PHONE MAKERS?

Facebook has shared user data with phone manufacturers since 2007.

The social network had deals with 60 companies, including a number of household names, like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Blackberry, and Amazon, which allowed them to access users’ social network data with permission.

Facebook says it cut data-sharing deals with hardware manufacturers because it couldn’t keep up with demand for its mobile app.

Since almost every handset maker had its own proprietary operating system, Facebook would have needed to build a specific version of the app for each firm.

To solve this problem, Facebook allowed device manufacturers themselves  access to user data so they could build the Facebook ‘experiences’ for their individual platform.


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) and his team signed deals with 60 companies, including Microsoft, Samsung, Blackberry, and Amazon, because it was unable to keep up with demand for its mobile app

‘In the early days of mobile, the demand for Facebook outpaced our ability to build versions of the product that worked on every phone or operating system,’ said Ime Archibong, Facebook VP of Product Partnerships.

‘To bridge this gap, we built a set of device-integrated APIs that allowed companies to recreate Facebook-like experiences for their individual devices or operating systems.’

Facebook says it tightly controlled how companies could use the data available via these APIs.

‘Given that these APIs enabled other companies to recreate the Facebook experience, we controlled them tightly from the get-go,’ Archibong said.

‘These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences.’ 

Since most modern smartphones run on either iOS or Android, Facebook is able to keep up with the demand.

As such, it recently announcement to developers that it would be winding down access to device-integrated APIs.

According to Archibong, 22 of the partnerships have already ended.

However, US security officials have branded the company a ‘national security threat’.

The Pentagon ordered all retail outlets on US military bases to stop selling Huawei branded smartphones in May after the US Department of Defence said using the handsets would pose an ‘unacceptable risk to the department’s personnel, information and mission’.

FBI Director Chris Wray said the government was ‘deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.’

Wray added this would provide ‘the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.’


Facebook maintains the deals it cut with smartphone manufacturers, like Huawei, were ‘very different’ from the type of public interfaces that allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest data on millions of users

The deal with Facebook enabled Huawei to access social media users’ work and education history, relationship status, friends and likes.

Facebook vice president of mobile partnerships Francisco Varela said access to user data was granted to the company in a ‘controlled’ manner.

However, vice chairman of the senate select committee on intelligence, US Senator Mark Warner, called for assurances that Facebook data was not transferred to Chinese servers.

‘Concerns about Huawei aren’t new,’ he said.

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

Facebook’s VP of product partnerships Ime Archibong explains ‘Why we disagree with the NYT’

Device-integrated APIs was software launched 10 years ago to help get Facebook onto mobile devices.

‘In the early days of mobile, the demand for Facebook outpaced our ability to build versions of the product that worked on every phone or operating system.

‘Back then there were no app stores. So companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube had to work directly with operating system and device manufacturers to get their products into people’s hands. This took a lot of time — and Facebook was not able to get to everyone.

‘To bridge this gap, we built a set of device-integrated APIs that allowed companies to recreate Facebook-like experiences for their individual devices or operating systems.

‘Over the last decade, around 60 companies have used them — including many household names such as Amazon, Apple, Blackberry, HTC, Microsoft and Samsung.

‘Given that these APIs enabled other companies to recreate the Facebook experience, we controlled them tightly from the get-go.

‘These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences.

Partners could not integrate the user’s Facebook features with their devices without the user’s permission.

‘And our partnership and engineering teams approved the Facebook experiences these companies built. Contrary to claims by the New York Times, friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends.

‘We are not aware of any abuse by these companies.

‘This is very different from the public APIs used by third-party developers. These third-party developers were not allowed to offer versions of Facebook to people and, instead, used the Facebook information people shared with them to build completely new experiences.

‘Now that iOS and Android are so popular, fewer people rely on these APIs to create bespoke Facebook experiences. It’s why we announced in April that we’re winding down access to them.

‘We’ve already ended 22 of these partnerships.’

Contracts with phone manufacturers had tight limits on what could be done with users’ data, and ‘approved experiences’ were reviewed by engineers and managers before being deployed, Facebook said in a statement.

The company said it is not aware of any privacy abuse of user data as a result of the deal with Huawei.

Facebook VP Varela 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.’  

On April 24, a matter of weeks after CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress about user privacy, Facebook told developers that it was winding down the scheme.

According to Archibong, 22 of the partnerships have already ended.

Huawei disputes claims from the US government that it could pose a threat to national security.

A spokesperson for the company said: ‘Huawei is aware of a range of US government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei’s business in the US market.

‘Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities.’

WHAT IS THE CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA SCANDAL?

Communications firms Cambridge Analytica has offices in London, New York, Washington, as well as Brazil and Malaysia.

The company boasts it can ‘find your voters and move them to action’ through data-driven campaigns and a team that includes data scientists and behavioural psychologists.

‘Within the United States alone, we have played a pivotal role in winning presidential races as well as congressional and state elections,’ with data on more than 230 million American voters, Cambridge Analytica claims on its website.

The company profited from a feature that meant apps could ask for permission to access your own data as well as the data of all your Facebook friends.


The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix (pictured), after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump

This meant the company was able to mine the information of 87 million Facebook users even though just 270,000 people gave them permission to do so.

This was designed to help them create software that can predict and influence voters’ choices at the ballot box.

The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix, after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump.

This information is said to have been used to help the Brexit campaign in the UK.

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