Top Dem to Facebook: ‘Does our personal life reside on a server in China?’

Top Dem to Facebook: ‘Does our personal life reside on a server in China?’
© Greg Nash

One top Democratic Senator wants to know if Facebook has shared user data with Chinese phone makers through its data-sharing partnerships with device companies.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Apple, Barr clash over Pensacola shooter's phone | Senate bill would boost Huawei alternatives | DHS orders agencies to fix Microsoft vulnerability | Chrome to phase out tracking cookies Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Sen. Warner calls on State Department to take measures to protect against cyberattacks MORE (D-Va.) on Tuesday said he is concerned that companies like Huawei and ZTE, which government officials believe are a threat to national security, might have been able to get user data from Facebook after it was revealed the company had data-sharing partnerships with roughly 60 device makers.

“Does our personal info reside on a server in China? I think Facebook owes us that answer,” Warner said during an event hosted by Axios.


It was reported by The New York Times on Sunday that Facebook had established special “far-reaching” data-sharing partnerships with roughly 60 device makers, including Apple and BlackBerry.

Firms were able to receive Facebook data including information about users’ relationship status, religion and political leanings. These companies were also allowed to see the data of Facebook users' friends.

The company began to wind down the program in April. A full list of companies participating in the program is not publicly available yet.

Warner, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ranking member, said that he felt as though Facebook still had not given him a direct answer on if Chinese companies were included in the list of device makers that Facebook had partnered with.

"I believe it’s a serious danger. I’ve been disappointed we’ve not gotten a straight answer," he said.

He noted that given the information he had at the moment, “it would be surprising to me if they somehow excluded Chinese companies.”

Warner and a slew of other politicians have said that they’re concerned about the potential for Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE to give the Chinese government backdoor access into the data about Americans using their devices. They say that their biggest fear is giving a China a window into the U.S. government and military.

Accordingly, lawmakers and government officials have taken steps to stop government and military officials from accessing the devices.

In May, the Pentagon barred military members from buying Huawei and ZTE phones.

Despite lawmaker fears, President TrumpDonald John TrumpNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Democratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' MORE has pushed to ease some business restrictions on ZTE, following enforcement action that the Department of Commerce took against the tech device company for violating sanctions against Iran.

Warner and others have criticized Trump for what they see as jeopardizing national security by going easy on ZTE.

During the event on Tuesday, Warner said that he did not want the President to let “ZTE off the hook.”

"I think it’s bad politics," he noted, adding that he was confident that there would be a supermajority in Congress to keep Trump from easing up on ZTE and other Chinese companies down the line.

Facebook has pushed back against general criticism of its data sharing partnerships with device makers.

“These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences,” Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships, wrote in a post about the program.