Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he would love Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to come to Australia and answer questions about the social network sharing personal user data with Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Senior members of the federal parliament’s powerful intelligence committee want the 34-year-old Facebook chief to answer questions about the controversial data deal.
“I would welcome Facebook coming and testifying before our parliamentary committee,” the prime minister told reporters in Brisbane on Thursday.
“Of course, we’d love to see the boss, naturally, he is the founder.”
On Wednesday, Facebook said China’s Huawei, computer maker Lenovo Group and smartphone makers OPPO and TCL Corp were among about 60 companies worldwide that received access to some user data after they signed contracts to recreate Facebook-like experiences for their users.
Huawei, the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, has come under scrutiny from US intelligence agencies who have said that Chinese telecommunications companies provide an opportunity for foreign espionage and threaten critical US infrastructure, something the Beijing has denied.
Facebook has said the contracts with phone maker Huawei Technologies and other Chinese companies were standard industry practice and necessary to ensure that people who bought electronic devices had ready access to Facebook services.
Labor MP Anthony Byrne, deputy chair of the joint intelligence and security committee, said Mr Zuckerberg owed Australia’s 15 million Facebook users some answers.
“It is completely unacceptable that information from Facebook users has been slyly handed over to Huawei by Facebook,” Mr Byrne said.
“I want to know why Mr Zuckerberg allowed this to happen. If need be, he will be invited to appear before the (committee) in a public hearing to explain himself to our committee and the Australian people.”
He has the support of Liberal committee chairman Andrew Hastie.
Liberal frontbencher Zed Seselja said companies must not put profits ahead of protecting its users’ data.
“Where companies look to do deals, where they give away personal information, where they sell personal information, obviously they need to be held accountable for that,” he told Sky News.
“I think Australians who are using Facebook and other social media would hope that some of their data can be protected, so Facebook has a responsibility to do that.”
Labor’s Jenny McAllister said the data deal raises issues about how Facebook operates, saying the company had been “quite negligent” in describing to consumers what was happening to their data.
“They’re really significant issues for privacy,” Senator McAllister said.
“Consumers, Facebook users, internet users, have a right to know really clearly what the platforms that they’re interacting with are planning to do with their data.”
Facebook has also faced criticism from both Republican and Democratic US lawmakers over its data it has shared with four Chinese firms
The bipartisan criticism reflects rising frustration in US Congress about how Facebook protects the privacy of the more than two billion people who use its services worldwide, demanding that the social media company be more forthcoming with the shared data.
Facebook said on Tuesday it would end the Huawei pact this week, was ending the other three Chinese partnerships, and that more than half the 60 partnerships had already been wound down.
Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter, “Mark Zuckerberg needs to return to Congress and testify why @facebook shared Americans’ private information with questionable Chinese companies.”
Mr Markey sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday asking the panel to call Mr Zuckerberg to testify.
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, a former Democratic presidential candidate, said on Twitter on Wednesday he would close his Facebook page, calling the company “amoral”.