Report Indicates Greater Huawei Involvement in Surveillance

WASHINGTON —

The Chinese telecom giant Huawei has consistently claimed it does not actively partner with the Chinese government in gathering intelligence on individuals within China, but a report by The Washington Post this week showing the company appears to have marketed surveillance technology to government customers calls the company’s assertions into question.

The report comes as major parts of the large company’s operations remain severely restricted by sanctions imposed by the United States under former President Donald Trump, which were renewed, and in some cases tightened, by President Joe Biden.

The newspaper obtained more than 100 PowerPoint presentations that were briefly posted to a public page of the company’s website. The trove of documents suggests the company was marketing various surveillance-related services, including voice recognition technology, location tracking and facial-recognition-based area surveillance.

The presentations indicate the company also marketed systems meant to monitor prisons, like those in which China is currently believed to be holding an untold number of Uyghurs in the Western province of Xinjiang. The system tracked prisoners’ labor productivity, as well as their time spent in reeducation classes and data that might indicate the effectiveness of those classes.

Additionally, the materials appeared to market workplace surveillance tools, meant to monitor employees' workplace performance and to spot workers who spend time resting or using personal electronics on the clock.

Huawei denial

In a statement provided to VOA, a Huawei spokesperson said, “Huawei has no knowledge of the projects mentioned in The Washington Post report.”

It continued, “Like all other major service providers, Huawei provides cloud platform services that comply with common industry standards. Huawei does not develop or sell systems that target any specific group of people and we require our partners comply with all applicable laws, regulations and business ethics. Privacy protection is our top priority and we require that all parts of our business comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate.”

The Post, in its article, noted the company’s official watermark appeared on the pages of the PowerPoint presentation, and that several included a page noting a “Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.” copyright.

Smartphone setback

Until recently, Huawei was one of the biggest sellers of smartphones in the world and enjoyed near-complete dominance in the Chinese market. Other sanctions levied against the company, however, have severely damaged that business.

The U.S. barred firms from licensing or selling the company technology critical to some of its products. That included Google, which in 2019 said it would no longer license its Android operating system — the world’s most popular — for use in new phones made by the company.

Intel and Qualcomm, two major makers of microchips, were banned from selling their most advanced technology to Huawei. The ban extended to contract chipmakers, like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., the world’s largest.

The result has been a drastic decline in the sale of Huawei smartphones, both globally and within China.

“The core of their devices business was smartphones, and their market share has just continued to decline,” Ryan Reith, a vice president with International Data Corporation, told VOA.

Reith said the prospects for recovery do not look good for the company’s smartphone business.

“We don't see any way that the brand itself turns around,” he said. “So, it's probably on its way out.”

Source: Voice of America