Facebook Inc. FB -0.18% said Tuesday that it struck data partnerships with at least four Chinese electronics firms, including Huawei Technologies Co., a telecommunications-equipment maker that U.S. officials view as a potential tool for state-sponsored spying.
The four partnerships are among the roughly 60 that Facebook struck with device manufacturers starting in 2007 so they could recreate the Facebook service on their devices, a Facebook spokeswoman said. As of Tuesday, more than half of those partnerships have been wound down, the spokeswoman added.
The social-media company said it plans to wind down its data-sharing partnership with Huawei by the end of the week. It isn’t clear when Facebook will end partnerships with the three other companies:
Lenovo Group Ltd., the world’s largest personal-computer maker; Oppo Electronics Corp., a smartphone maker; and Chinese electronics conglomerate TCL . Facebook officials defended the decision to work with Huawei and said that no data belonging to Facebook users was saved on Huawei servers. Facebook had a manager and an engineer review the apps before they were deployed to ensure the data wasn’t saved on company servers, the Facebook spokeswoman said.
“Huawei is the third-largest mobile manufacturer globally and its devices are used by people all around the world, including in the United States,”
Francisco Varela, vice president of mobile partnerships, said in a statement. “Facebook along with many other U.S. tech companies have worked with them and other Chinese manufacturers to integrate their services onto these phones.”
The New York Times earlier reported on Facebook’s device partnerships with companies like Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. After the Times article, several lawmakers said they felt they had been misled by Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who testified in April that Facebook restricted data access to outsiders in 2015.
“Facebook’s integrations with Huawei, Lenovo, OPPO and TCL were controlled from the get go—and we approved the Facebook experiences these companies built,” Mr. 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.”
The company is dealing with the fallout related to Cambridge Analytica, a research firm that had ties to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and improperly obtained the data of 87 million Facebook users. The crisis sparked questions about Facebook’s lax oversight of its platform, an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and two congressional appearances by Mr. Zuckerberg last month.
Facebook argues that the device partnerships are different from the data extended to third parties like academics and mobile apps. Facebook negotiated each device deal differently.
Still, lawmakers have raised several concerns about Facebook’s partnership with Huawei, the subject of a 2012 report by U.S. congressional investigators who said the company could be exploited to spy or harm the U.S. telecommunications network. Huawei makes telecom equipment and smartphones.
“The news that Facebook provided privileged access to Facebook’s API to Chinese device makers like Huawei and TCL raises legitimate concerns, and I look forward to learning more about how Facebook ensured that information about their users was not sent to Chinese servers,” Sen. Mark Warner said in a statement Tuesday, referring to the website’s application programming interface, or set of software-building tools.
It isn’t clear why Facebook continued to maintain a relationship with Huawei despite the U.S. government’s concerns. When asked, the Facebook spokeswoman said the company hasn’t seen nor does it suspect any misuse of Facebook user data.