Overhype

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
china, competition, moral panics, surveillance

Companies:
best buy, cisco, huawei



Best Buy Bans Huawei Phones Despite Zero Public Evidence Company Spies On Americans

from the hypocritical-protectionism dept

A few years back, you might recall that there was a period of immense government and media hyperventilation over allegations that Chinese hardware vendor Huawei spied on an American consumers. Story after story engaged in hysterical hand-wringing over this threat, most of them ignoring that Chinese gear and components are everywhere, including in American products. So the government conducted an 18 month investigation into those allegations and found that there was no evidence whatsoever to support allegations that Huawei spies on Americans via its products. One anonymous insider put it this way at the time:

"We knew certain parts of government really wanted” evidence of active spying, said one of the people, who requested anonymity. “We would have found it if it were there."

What inquiries into this subject do tend to find is that U.S. networking companies like Cisco, terrified by the added competition from Chinese network vendors, are really effective at scaremongering gullible and non-tech savvy lawmakers into supporting a protectionist stance against Huawei. The hypocrisy of "protectionism is only bad when somebody else does it" is compounded by the fact that Snowden docs revealed that the NSA hacked into Huawei starting back in 2007 to steal source code and...plant backdoors in Huawei gear to spy on people around the world.

In an ideal world, numerous lessons would have been learned from this whole experience.

But this is America! Fast forward to the last few months, and the narrative of Huawei as a villainous, unchecked Chinese spying apparatus is once again all the rage, with nobody apparently heeding the lessons from just a few years ago. As we've been noting, both AT&T and Verizon (who not only help the NSA spy on everyone but have been caught giving advice on how to best tapdance around privacy and surveillance laws) were recently pressured to kill looming business deals with Huawei based on unsubstantiated, unpublished and vague allegations of spying.

While Huawei has some presence here (they helped Google build the Nexus 6P), they'd been making some solid inroads at AT&T and Verizon on deals that would have let them strike major smartphone partnerships. AT&T was just hours away from announcing one such deal at CES earlier this year, when it suddenly announced it would be scrapping the deal. AT&T didn't say why, but later reports indicated it was because of pressure from a handful of lawmakers on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees (again, AT&T has oodles of NSA contracts it would obviously like to protect).

Again though, nobody was able to offer concrete evidence of said spying, nor did anybody seem to remember we just went through this a few years back and found no evidence of Huawei wrongdoing. Fast forward to this week, when Best Buy announced it too would be banning Huawei products from its store shelves (warning: obnoxious autoplay video):

"Best Buy, the nation's largest electronics retailer, has ceased ordering new smartphones from Huawei and will stop selling its products over the next few weeks, according to a person familiar with the situation. Best Buy made the decision to end the relationship, the person said. "We don't comment on specific contracts with vendors, and we make decisions to change what we sell for a variety of reasons," said a Best Buy spokeswoman."

Few news outlets seem to spend too much time worrying about the fact that these decisions are being made completely non-transparently, with no hard evidence being offered to justify them. Again it's not impossible that Huawei helps the government spy, but given the volume and duration of these accusations, you'd think that somebody would be able to drum up a shred of public evidence supporting them. Regardless, protectionism is playing a pretty major role here one way or another, and you'd be hard pressed to find any American tech press coverage that so much as breaches that already documented reality.

While it's obvious that China spies on America, it certainly has an ocean of ways to do so outside of Huawai. Chinese hardware is utterly everywhere in America, including inside of most U.S.-made networking gear and smartphone hardware. And Americans also have a voracious appetite for internet of broken things devices, most of which lack even the most rudimentary privacy and security safeguards. Spying on us at scale doesn't really even require Huawei's help. We volunteer ourselves routinely for the duty courtesy of our collective obsession with "smart" televisions and other easily-hacked devices.

It's routinely amazing how the same individuals and organizations who preach endlessly about the need for healthy, open competition and malign China endlessly for protectionism, are suddenly OK when we're the ones dressing up protectionism under the thin veneer of national security. Similarly there's an endless roster of individuals engaged in all manner of face-fanning when foreign governments spy on us, but don't so much as blink when it's revealed we illegally hack into companies to plant backdoors or intercept U.S. networking gear deliveries for the same purpose.

And again, this hypocrisy is routinely made worse by a U.S. (and Canadian) tech press that's utterly oblivious to how nationalism skews their reporting and allows them to be easily manipulated by companies simply eager to avoid competition. If you're a tech reporter it is, shockingly enough, still your job to provide hard data--even when reporting on murky allegations against "enemies of the state" you may not personally be a fan of.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 3:41pm

    Standards

    If only there where some sort of standard you could verify against! so that you could look a tech products and see what they did and if they complied, but that's to hard and confusing no large multinational could ever hope to participate in such an en devour, I guess well just have to trust that huge corporations that are known to supply and actively cooperate with spies against there own populations will do what is right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 4:04pm

      Re: Standards

      Are you suggesting that all software be open sourced and the source code readable by anyone? Some software companies would have serial conniptions should they be forced to open their proprietary business secrets to review or copying. They don't seem to find it credible that companies could compete on things other than secrets, like quality or features. Oh, and those secrets would say things to customers that they don't want to tell customers, like the pipeline of collected information back into their servers, for example.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 7:14pm

        Re: Re: Standards

        > software companies would have serial conniptions should they be forced to open their proprietary business secrets to review or copying. T

        Are you suggesting that companies should be FORCED to divulge source code? Who exactly would finance software development, then, if FORCED to give it away to competitors?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 7:20pm

          Re: Re: Re: Standards

          That's also why books should be printed with invisible ink. Otherwise competitors might copy them.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2018 @ 4:59am

          Re: Re: Re: Standards

          Your starter for 10 of contributers to just the Linux kernel.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Dirty Tech Dude (profile), 24 Mar 2018 @ 11:39pm

          Re: Re: Re: Standards

          From my personal point of view, it would solve most of humankind's technical shortcoming's... The person or group that succeeds in turning the Patent vault's of the major Tech. Giants on this planet upside down, and then in shaking them vigorously, may well usher in a new era of prosperity yet unimagined, and not just the previously unheard of... Much of it being several thousand years in advance of the Petro-chemical slop we have been forced into mind numbingly using for over a century now... Funny that... Just the patents on alternative I.C. engines, and little items like plasma generating spark plugs alone... Are you tired of seeing older family members die from Chem-Therapy ? You do realize that very few people ever medically die from Cancer alone, and that over 50 U.S. Dr.'s who effect cures on cancer using alternative non (Big Pharma) methods, were executed... My own Primary care Dr. who knows my engineering background even started talking to me about this, because some of them were personal friends. She and her husband (omitted for privacy)verifiably own most of the primary care clinics in Florida and South Georgia... When a Company like Monsanto is allowed by the government that has been lawfully authorized by the Sovereign American People over the charge of Monsanto's over-site, to actually and incestuously cross-staff that governments over-site committee with Monsanto's own Contracted Employee's, then by definition of law, any Patents cease to function as patents, and each and every single patent becomes a full and direct licensure for, "Misappropriation of almost everything with a genetic structure, in It's Fullest and Most Nihilistic Form."....

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 4:01pm

    Not a "ban"

    What's with people applying the term "ban" to everything lately? They didn't ban the phones, they've just stopped ordering them and will stop selling them. In other words, it's a decision and not a rule. The stores are corporate-owned-and-operated, not franchises, so no edict needs to be issued to prevent employees from ordering Huawei stuff—they never had that autonomy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 6:22pm

      Re: Not a "ban"

      no edict needs to be issued to prevent employees from ordering Huawei stuff—they never had that autonomy.

      So no one in senior management ordered the buyers below them to cease ordering Huawei products? Okay, if you say so. And by the way, how did you come by that information?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Madd the Sane (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 4:10pm

    FBI Involvement

    Of course Best Buy stopped selling Huawei cell phones. The FBI said they'd lose payment from the Geek Squad snooping around in people's computer if they continued selling them. /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 4:21pm

      Re: FBI Involvement

      Are you sure that the sarc mark is needed? Trump is attacking Chines exports, and a few hints in the right ears and...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 6:12pm

    The broader issue

    There are now many millions of devices developed in China that are present on the domestic communications networks of their strategic rivals, just as there are many US-developed devices in China.

    The article acknowledges that situation in passing, while stating that it's "obvious that China spies on America", but mainly to point out that it doesn't make sense to zero in on Huawei.

    Then it gets back to reminding us how the US is the world champion at spying.

    But that paragraph raised something quite concerning yet rarely discussed - despite a Western narrative biased against China and headlines about Huawei, when it comes down to it, we don't pay much attention to the broader range of devices, their vulnerability to foreign intrusion (we do plenty of worrying about our own governments already) and what their role might be should the proverbial hit the fan between nations.

    Thing is, it's not just an issue of good old spying, a la "everyone does it to everyone, so who cares". The greater concern, in my view, is something new in the history of national rivalries - the vulnerability of civil society to attacks via 'the cyber', and latent attack capability via state-developed, so-called advanced persistent threats. So these devices aren't just potential tools of espionage, but potential weapons, with a cost-benefit perceived as quite favourable - meaning the political barrier to launching such attacks and wreaking havoc within another country is likely to be lower than for conventional or indeed nuclear weapons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Snape (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 8:06pm

    Not really seeing the issue

    Did Best Buy say Huawei is spying and that's why they are no longer buying from them?

    I imagine it could be a bunch of different things, from finding a better price from another company to just wanting to stock a different type of phone. Maybe the CEO of Huawei said something to the CEO of Best Buy and he was insulted. Who knows!

    If Best Buy said they'd no longer carry Monster Cables would there be a hand-wringing story from Techdirt about how horrible it is?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2018 @ 5:01am

      Re: Not really seeing the issue

      There is a sustained US government led attack on Huawei taking place, and so this is interesting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2018 @ 10:04am

        Re: Re: Not really seeing the issue

        But it's not proof that Best Buy is acting because of the government or even the government's concern. They might just get better profit margins from the other brands they carry. Trying to imply that it's related to the government is conspiracy theory.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    olver, 24 Mar 2018 @ 2:33am

    Best Buy?? Seriously, that is still a thing?
    They should immediately go the way of Circuit City and disappear into oblivion!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    In Chin Right Now, 24 Mar 2018 @ 9:18am

    Yeah-the Chinese are doing just fine

    Im in China right now, and I can tell you with ccertainty: Americans are doomed.

    Nothing you read is true,.your CIA controls the press, and is currently at war with a sitting president,()wtf?!)

    At least here, the cards are on the table, while you sit there and do nothing to challenge your governments spying on citizens (hint: if one hundred Americans, working with lawyers and human rights organizations all Googled child porn and documented the process with Wireshark captures,your own guy at the switch, and switch data with a man on the side to document it, and necessary legal oversight)you would have full legal standing and a class action to sue the NSA for spying.

    But you dont want that ay? Too much to lose in the way of political appearances?

    Purely amazing....rule by CIA and the word police...backed.by a nation of cowards who are afraid of how the Pharisees and the Anti Defamation League and their crisis pr will spin you...AND your Constitution

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2018 @ 10:57am

      Re: Yeah-the Chinese are doing just fine

      Funny stuff - you should become a writer, big future for you making up bullshit for the big screen.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        In China Right Now, 24 Mar 2018 @ 9:13pm

        Re: Re: Yeah-the Chinese are doing just fine

        Why? Keeping cowards like you amused here in these little screens is so much more interesting!

        And,using these little boxes thus brings out do-nothing-morons like you, who others can laugh at, and mock into internet etrrnity.

        Then, a few of THOSE get busy DOING SOMETHING.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2018 @ 6:25am

          Re: Re: Re: Yeah-the Chinese are doing just fine

          Your amazingly mature communication skills are desperately needed in the tumultuous roller coaster of world politics today. Your diplomatic acumen would certainly be a positive force in the de-escalation of world tensions. Ever consider a career in politics? I think you have a future there.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            In China, 25 Mar 2018 @ 9:27am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah-the Chinese are doing just fine

            You, sir/madame, get the win! Perhaps it is YOU who deserves the compliment:)

            And, yes, I once considered that option, whereas now I await the proper approaches, conversations, and directions of more seasoned diplomats than myself.

            You know where to reach me, lol.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2018 @ 10:57am

    In related news ... Best Buy is still around, who knew?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Hu, 24 Mar 2018 @ 12:17pm

    China

    Obviously this reporter is paid by China.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 24 Mar 2018 @ 2:30pm

    It is almost as if somebody is afraid someone else has the same kind of access as they themselves do..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Allith Galaviz, 25 Mar 2018 @ 6:27am

    "While it's obvious that China spies on America, it certainly has an ocean of ways to do so outside of Huawai." ??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2018 @ 7:26am

    Huawei &/or state-based hackers spent years hacking into other telecom companies to in a serious industrial espionage campaign that helped lead to some of those company's bankruptcies as Huawei benefited from stolen proprietary data and insider strategy and road maps. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/former-nortel-exec-warns-against-working-with-huawei-1.1137006) That alone should be enough to give pause, but there's no reason to think these latest reports from the intelligence community lack merit

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2018 @ 1:58pm

    Best Buy bans Huawei phones because they don't have backdoors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2018 @ 9:30am

    In the meantime, go ahead and buy an Apple or Android phone, preinstalled with software dedicated to hoovering up your information because "spying" is a subjective term.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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