Who’s Keeping The World’s Data?

In its Jan 25, 2020 edition, the Economist featured an article entitled, “Huawei Is A Cyber Security Risk,” in which it details the many of the reasons it posits that the US has chosen to target the Chinese Tech Giant. The article comes on the heels of news that Huawei CFO, Meng Wanzhou may be extradited to the United States to face sanction-related charges concerning business with Iran. The title leaves us wondering, whether technological dominance makes  tech companies a threat; and should that be the case, does that make Apple and Microsoft a threat to other nations?

Does technological dominance make tech companies a treat to national security?

Hawks in the current administration have been pushing the narrative of China’s technological dominance as a threat with almost complete bipartisan support in the political arena. This is not a presidential pet project, but one supported by democrats and republicans the same, much like the 2019 Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (Congress.gov).

Not long after the talk of China’s tech strength became the conversation on the Hill, a trade war sparked fresh conflict, inditing China on allegations of unfair trade. Regardless of arguments surrounding the legitimacy of the trade war or the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy bill, questions remain about the safety of data transmitted around the world in a matter of seconds.

What if any security risks are posed by companies, NGOs and multinationals whose home nations may exploit or require user data? If Huawei is to be examined for its technological prowess in relation to the PRC, does that not also implicate major companies like Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Microsoft and others?

For years US companies have claimed the prize as technological giants until recently. Yet the international community has not questioned the security of interfaces like Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn, Apple and Microsoft that could also put many nations’ individual citizens and politicians at risk.

Just recently, US based company, WhatsApp announced cyber security breaches for its users. Facebook faced data breaches in 2018 and 2019. In 2016 Linkedin faced a data breach exposing 117 million emails and passwords according to a Fortune Magazine article, despite protections put in place as a result of a hack in 2012. Drop Box, Microsoft, Google and many more American companies serving worldwide clientele.

Is it safe from hacks or requests for data and information under the US Homeland Security legislation enacted shortly after the 911 Terrorist attack in New York which gave government new freedoms to private information. As the world grows ever global, in matters of national security and private confidence, how sage is the gmail account of an international diplomat if we must also question the reliability of a Huawei phone?

As a business moving forward in imports/exports, international services and other commodities, how might such conflicts affect your business interests? Should India come under scrutiny, should business investments in Karbonn Mobile or Intex Technologies become a loss? Additionally Google has also held the market with its Android operating system that doubtless compiled mountain of data on users. Should other mobile companies be concerned that the technology giant Google may cripple profits by pulling the OS from other mobile technology companies?

A very dangerous precedent is being set as the world begins to realign itself post trade war and in the wake of the coming US/Huawei trial. Will companies be targeted for exponential growth? Additionally nations must prepare themselves for the possibility that information sharing, like Operating Systems, social Networks and tech devices may be banned or limited; leading to lost profit and stagnant growth. Nations once thought of as bastions of freedom are now closing their doors on not only immigrants and goods, but technology.

Investors, business owners and others in the space must be savvy and diversify their tech holdings to avoid significant loss. And even should one successfully gaurd from fiscal loss; there is no guarantee of technological/data security from non-natibe countries. Partnering with tech giants like Facebook, Google and Microsoft may need to look different in the future; as we watch the US’s example with Huawei.

On the individual side, users will need to be aware of the information they are providing and the domiciliary of the tech company to which they reveal and store data. In 2019, Equifax, a company that has no legal rights to hold sensitive economic and financial data history was hacked. As a result an agreement was reached that offered a small payout to affected individuals and limited credit monitoring.

The development is particularly disturbing when one realizes that no one in the USA voluntarily gives any of the credit reporting agencies (which are privately held, non-governmental) entities consent to hold or monitor their data. A real question then arises about the collection of data on private individuals and it’s effects.

 

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