This development has made Canadian citizens curious about why their government welcomes some Chinese products, such as VPNs, which could conceivably have similar security shortfalls as Huawei smartphones and telecommunications equipment.
Meng’s arrest created an understandable public interest in the increased data privacy and anonymity provided by locally owned Canadian VPN choices. Keep in mind more than half of all free VPNs (which tend to draw the attention of those just becoming aware of the idea – I suggest avoiding those) are owned by Chinese entities or were developed by Chinese inventors, though western governments seem unconcerned about that.
The US government: Is it a bigger danger than Huawei?
For years, the US and UK governments have tried to force tech companies to build backdoors into their products. They say they need this to investigate crimes. But a backdoor is a backdoor, as my Grandmother never said, and there is no way of making a security hole that is available to law enforcement but not hackers or government surveillance programs.
As for the accusation that the Chinese government might use Huawei’s products to spy on US citizens: I chuckle aloud at that. US citizens are already subject to the largest surveillance program in the history of humanity by their government. Hypocrisy? I think so.
When it comes to protecting key infrastructure, there is perhaps a far stronger case. But again, here’s the thing: international geopolitics is (nominally, and ineffectively) governed by international law. When it comes to cyber-warfare, there is no law. The Stuxnet attack (US against Iran), WannaCry (Russia vs. US), and alleged Russian interference in the most recent US elections all passed by without serious consequences for the attackers. That’s not to say these attacks aren’t dangerous – they are – but they are also just a feature of politics in 2019.
Lastly, and about the moral argument for not using Huawei’s products, it seems problematical for either the US, UK, or Australia to claim that high ground for anything.
Hypocrisy or Just Good Business?
So, in short, the US complains that the Chinese government may be forcing Huawei to build backdoors into its products. But the US government is already doing the same for US manufacturers.
The US government complains that the Chinese government might be surveilling US citizens. But, we all know that the US government is already doing this; and they worry about the Chinese government launching the same kind of cyberattacks the US has been using for years.
Is this hypocritical? Indeed, but I live in a country where free speech is allowed, and I can write this without fear of arrest or re-education.
But it’s unlikely that hypocrisy is the reason that Huawei is slowly being allowed back into the fold.
Call me cynical, but I think it’s just good business. Look at the raw numbers.
Huawei had a record-breaking year in 2018, selling over 100 million handsets, and bought $11 billion worth of products from the US last year, according to founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei. It’s even possible to make the argument that the AI and machine learning algorithms that are helping to protect both America’s grid infrastructure and companies around the world, most of which are US developed, wouldn’t sell so well in a decreased threat environment.
Honorary Gadgeteers take – money speaks louder than words
I am not sure exactly what Xi said to Trump during that G20 dinner, but I can guess. A ban on Huawei’s products, of the type the president was apparently supporting before that meeting, would cost both countries plenty of money. And perhaps that’s worth more, ultimately, than national security.
And Trump likes to have the winning hand. Pity its not poker.
GadgetGuy’s Australian take
We have reviewed several Huawei devices and use the same comprehensive paradigms to rate all smartphones. Huawei has not attempted to influence ratings – it is justifiably good gear. All review devices are subject to signed loan agreements, and some are on longer-term loan to see how they perform over time as reference devices, e.g. the P30 Pro is our reference camera phone since it is a top performer. This is no different from other phone makers with which we have reference agreements.
We have covered the US/China Trade issues extensively. As part of that we have covered the impact of these on the future ownership of Huawei devices. We don’t have the foreknowledge to make conclusions about the brand’s future. We will continue to monitor the story, especially mid-August when the Google exemption expires and it may well be October before the Executive Order is enacted.