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Advancing a peaceful transition to democracy in China through truth, understanding, citizen power, & cooperative action

Our Demands to Facebook

Our Demands to Facebook
Initiatives for China/Citizen Power
 June 11, 2018
 
We noticed that Facebook, after being pressed by the media, admitted on June 5 to having signed multi-year cooperation agreements with Huawei, Lenovo and other Chinese mobile phone manufacturers. Under the terms of these agreements, Facebook allowed mobile phones produced by these firms to be “compatible with U.S. social networks at a technical level.” Specifically, Chinese mobile phone makers were allowed to obtain the personal data of Facebook users and their friends. Of particular consideration is the close relationship between China’s handset makers and the Chinese government, as well as the Chinese government’s long-term adoption of strict monitoring measures against its people. In light thereof, as an NGO committed to the protection of human rights in China, Initiatives for China expresses regret about the latent risks associated with Facebook’s failure to promptly inform the public about this practice. Furthermore, we believe that Facebook’s approach may pose a special security threat to Facebook’s Chinese users both in and outside China, a threat which exceeds the scope of ordinary privacy leaks.
 
In response to the possible security threat posed by this practice, we hereby publicly present our concerns and demands to Facebook, Inc.:
 
Firstly, Facebook is a website and social media platform prohibited by the Chinese government, but this does not mean that the Chinese government’s Internet surveillance department does not collect information through Facebook. In the view of the Chinese government, social networking itself is a political activity. In many cases, the leaking of social networking data endangers Chinese netizens who have relatively frequent contact with people inside China. Therefore, Facebook’s Chinese users have a valid reason to express greater concern about the aforesaid agreements and to request that Facebook offer a more detailed disclosure.
 
Secondly, based on the information disclosed by Facebook to date, we cannot determine whether the abovementioned agreements are limited to mobile devices sold in the United States (or everywhere outside China) or also include all Huawei, Lenovo, TCL, and OPPO mobile phone products sold in China. Although the Chinese government prevents Internet users in China from accessing Facebook, many Chinese netizens use virtual private networks and other methods to bypass the Great Firewall of China (GFW) and become Facebook users. In our experience, many users who bypass the GFW are opponents of the Chinese government’s information blockade; by circumventing the GFW, they are defending their right to freedom of expression. Therefore, these users have long been the focus of China’s Internet police and Internet monitoring department. If Facebook’s agreements with the aforesaid companies entail mobile devices sold in China, then as soon as the information of these pursuers of freedom of speech is collected by these companies, if China’s Internet monitoring and policing departments request access, there are absolutely no legal or administrative procedures that can prevent them from doing so. Therefore, Facebook has a moral obligation to provide an explanation for its conduct.
 
Thirdly, we note that, over the years, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has engaged in frequent interactions with the Chinese government, including close contact with China’s censorship officials. We understand Facebook’s desire to gain entry to the Chinese market. However, in meetings with Lu Wei (the former head of the Cyberspace Administration of China) and Liu Yunshan (a former Politburo Standing Committee member responsible for ideological indoctrination), Mr. Zuckerberg did not ask them for open network access in accordance with the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of speech. On the contrary, according to sources, in an effort to enter the Chinese market, Facebook secretly developed censorship software to prevent posts from appearing in the news streams of users in specific geographical areas. In terms of the perceptions of ordinary Chinese people, Mr. Zuckerberg’s excessively friendliness and modesty towards Xi Jinping and China’s censorship officials appear ingratiating and even obsequious. Thus, the question remains as to whether Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook, in their dealings with the Chinese government, can uphold the principle of protecting the privacy of Chinese users. We cannot be sure whether Mr. Zuckerberg’s attitudes toward the Chinese government and its leaders caused Facebook, in its aforementioned agreements with Huawei, Lenovo and other Chinese handset makers, to be negligent towards to privacy and security issues of Chinese users. Hopefully, Facebook can offer a further explanation regarding these privacy and security issues that affect users in China-a country in which “incrimination through speech” is a pervasive phenomenon-and adopt more stringent security standards.
 
Mobile phones have become an integral part of people’s daily lives and one of their primary communication tools. And Facebook, as one of the largest social media platforms in the world, has users from around the globe. We implore Mr. Zuckerberg to not merely see the smiling faces of Xi Jinping, Liu Yunshan, Lu Wei and others, but also to see the countless people in China who live in a regime of censorship. There are still many Chinese people who are being persecuted and even imprisoned because of their speech. Facebook should realize that Chinese users both in and outside China, are particularly concerned about network security issues. Facebook must not, whether through negligence or acquiescence, facilitate the Chinese government’s illegal collection of Internet users’ information.
 
We hope that Facebook can provide us with a prompt, candid and responsible response to our concerns and demands. Otherwise, we reserve the right to take further actions, including legal ones,  at all levels.
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