Facebook accused of granting China access to user data

Two senators have written an open letter to Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg, claiming to have seen leaked documents that suggest Facebook allowed more developers from a wider range of blacklisted countries to view sensitive user data than was previously thought.

If proved true, the claims made by upper-house representatives Mark Warner and Marco Rubio – respectively the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Intelligence – would mark another episode in the protracted standoff between the US government and social media giant.

In the letter, dated February 6, the senators allege that Facebook, which last year rebranded as Meta, had known since “at least September 2018” that “hundreds of thousands” of developers from nations including not only China but other blacklisted countries such as Russia had access to user data – despite the fact that the multinational itself had already designated such jurisdictions as “high risk.”

The open letter describes the exposed data as including user IDs, photos, contact details, and private messages.

Russia had access too, claim senators

The numbers cited by Warner and Rubio claim 90,000 developers in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) alone, with another 42,000 from Russia, and thousands more from jurisdictions deemed risky by Facebook, which they also noted had “never been permitted to operate in the PRC.”

The senators claim the revelation came to light as a result of documents recently unsealed in court in relation to “pending litigation” involving Meta, presumably the original case filed against it in the Northern District of California in 2018. However, as yet these incriminating new files do not appear to have been disseminated to the wider public and so Cybernews was unable to verify the claims.

The letter goes on to claim that, while Facebook’s data sharing with potential undesirables from China is common knowledge dating back to when the case first came to light, the extent to which the social media giant allowed it to happen was much greater than previously thought.

“We were startled to learn recently, as a result of this ongoing litigation and discovery, that Facebook had concluded that a much wider range of foreign-based developers, in addition to the PRC-based device-makers, also had access to this data,” said the letter.

Fears data was abused

Senators Warner and Rubio are demanding that Meta clarify whether the data enabled any “coordinated inauthentic activity” or “malign behavior by foreign governments” as well as asking to know whether Facebook had received “any indication that developers’ access enabled malicious advertising or other fraudulent activity by foreign actors.”

When the original case broke it was revealed that Facebook had given tech companies in China including Huawei access to application programming interfaces – effectively used to allow computer programs to talk to one another, and deemed sensitive by cybersecurity professionals – which subsequently led to the US-based firm being hauled before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

At the time of writing, Meta has yet to respond to the latest claims against it.

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