U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) took to the Senate floor today to blast Facebook for failing to disclose that it had shared users’ personal information with at least 60 companies, including four Chinese electronics manufacturers.
According to reporting from the New York Times, among the companies with access to Facebook user data was Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which has close ties with the Chinese government and may pose a threat to U.S. national security. Other companies with Facebook data sharing arrangements included the likes of Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, Microsoft and Samsung. The companies had access to vast amounts of detailed Facebook user data, including the information of friends who may not have consented to having their personal information accessed and shared.
“The bottom line is these revelations are yet another example of questionable business practices by Facebook that could undermine basic consumer privacy,” Nelson said in a speech on the Senate floor today.
In April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared in front of a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees to answer questions in the wake of political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvesting private data from more than 87 million Facebook profiles. During the hearing Zuckerberg apologized for his company’s negligence and pledged to do better. He also asserted that consumers own their personal information and control it how it can be seen and used. But today’s reporting in the New York Times raised questions about the accuracy of Zuckerberg’s testimony.
On the Senate floor, Nelson pointed out that while Zuckerberg told lawmakers in April that app developers were prohibited from collecting friends’ information in 2014, he failed to mention that device manufacturers were still able to access the information and never revealed the data-sharing agreements.
“…it’s hard to know what’s true anymore,” Nelson implored. “What in the world is next and what in the world is going to protect Americans’ personally identifiable private information?”
Nelson’s remarks come just one day after he sent a letter to Zuckerberg demanding answers from Facebook in the wake of an earlier Times report that the company offered numerous device manufacturers special access to private user information. The letter gave Zuckerberg a June 18 deadline to answer.
The letter Nelson sent to Zuckerberg yesterday is available here.
Following is a transcript of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor.
Senator Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
June 6, 2018
Sen. Nelson: Madam President, it’s interesting that the majority whip just spoke about China and this senator wants to talk about Facebook and some of the things that are threatening national security and our personal privacy.
I rise to speak on the recent press reports on Facebook and how the social media giant partnered with at least 60 mobile device manufacturers and shared user information with the likes of Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, Microsoft and Samsung.
And just today on the subject of China, the New York Times is reporting that Facebook also partnered with four Chinese electronic manufacturers, including Huawei which is known to have close ties with the Chinese government and may pose a national security threat to the U.S. According to the Times, these companies had access to vast amount of Facebook’s user data, including the information of friends who may not have provided proper consent to access and share personal and their personally identifiable information.
Madam President, we don’t know all the facts yet, but it’s clear what Facebook claims and what the New York Times is reporting, it doesn’t end up squaring up. As a result, the chairman of the Commerce Committee, Senator Thune, and I as ranking member wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg asking that he answer a number of questions about the New York Times reporting.
Specifically, Senator Thune and I want to know who exactly these business partners are and what are the nature of these agreements. We want to know what safeguards are in place and whether Facebook conducted adequate oversight to protect user customer information from unauthorized use and storage.
And we also ask whether Facebook users and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) were aware of these business agreements. Currently, Facebook is operating under a 2011 consent order as part of a settlement with the FTC. And it’s not clear whether their data sharing agreements are in violation of that order.
The bottom line is these revelations are yet another example of questionable business practices by Facebook that could undermine basic consumer privacy . Remember, less than two months ago, Mr. Zuckerberg appeared in front of our committee and a joint committee hearing with the Judiciary Committee to answer questions in the face of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.
In that hearing Mr. Zuckerberg apologized for his company’s negligence and pledged to do better. He also asserted that consumers own their personal information and control it how it can be seen and used. I want to repeat what I said. He — this is Zuckerberg — asserted that consumers, their users, own their personal information and control how it can be seen and used. That’s what Zuckerberg told our committee. But the reporting in the New York Times suggests that’s not accurate.
While Mr. Zuckerberg asserted that developers were prohibited from collecting friends’ information in 2014, he failed to mention that device manufacturers were still able to access the information. He never revealed these data-sharing agreements in our hearing in April.
As a result, it’s hard to know what’s true anymore. And now we learn that Facebook gave Chinese companies believed to be national security risks access to user data. What in the world is next and what in the world is going to protect Americans’ personally identifiable private information?
Madam President, Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the world with over two billion users. And in the U.S., over 200 million users. And those users interact with each other and post sensitive personal information. The company has a unique responsibility to its users to be vigilant caretakers of their personally identifiable information.
They also have a responsibility to be transparent. I look forward to Mr. Zuckerberg’s response to the letter that Senator Thune and I had sent to him just recently. And it’s high time that Congress act to provide all American consumers with the basic privacy protections that they expect and that they deserve to be protected. And they’re counting on us to do Madam President, I yield the floor.