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and surveillance laws) were recently pressured to kill looming business deals with Huawei based on unsubstantiated, unpublished and vague allegations of spying.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.