US Lawmakers Question Meta on Sensitive Facebook User Data Access Granted to Chinese, Russian Developers

Even though Facebook has never been able to operate in China, nearly 90,000 developers had access to users' profile data, photos, private messages.

US Lawmakers Question Meta on Sensitive Facebook User Data Access Granted to Chinese, Russian Developers

Photo Credit: Reuters

The unsealed documents came to light as part of a 2018 litigation in California

  • Letter suggests nearly 90,000 developers in China got access to user data
  • 42,000 in Russia, thousands in Iran, North Korea also had access
  • US believes Chinese Communist Part could use American user data wrongly

Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, Chair and Vice Chair of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote to Facebook parent Meta Platforms on Monday about documents that show it knew developers in China and Russia had access to user data that could be used for espionage.

"It appears from these documents that Facebook has known, since at least September 2018, that hundreds of thousands of developers in countries Facebook characterized as 'high-risk,' including the People's Republic of China, had access to significant amounts of sensitive user data," Warner, a Democrat, and Republican Rubio wrote in the letter to company founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The letter said an internal Meta document showed that nearly 90,000 developers in China had been given access to information about users, including profile data, photos, and private messages even though Facebook had never been able to operate in China.

More than 42,000 developers in Russia and thousands in Iran and North Korea also had access to the information, they wrote.

The unsealed documents came to light as part of litigation in the Northern District of California that was filed in 2018.

"We have grave concerns about the extent to which this access could have enabled foreign intelligence service activity, ranging from foreign malign influence to targeting and counter-intelligence," the two senators wrote.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week, US Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat on the intelligence committee, wrote to Apple and Google stating that TikTok, owned by China's ByteDance, should be removed from app stores run by Apple and Alphabet's Google because the short video social media app poses a risk to national security.

The app, which Congress has already banned from federal government devices, has come under increasing criticism because of concern that China's government could use it to harvest data on Americans or advance Chinese interests.

"No company subject to CCP (Chinese Communist Party) dictates should have the power to accumulate such extensive data on the American people or curate content to nearly a third of our population," Bennet wrote in the letter to Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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