The first order of business for Peng Liyuan on returning to China might be to trade in her iPhone 5 for a Huawei model. In Mexico, China’s first lady was photographed using her Apple smartphone to take a picture of Mayan ruins. But as John Gapper pointed out in the Financial Times last weekend, that could pose a security threat. “It turns out that Ms Peng’s photos, or any other messages sent on Apple’s network, might have been accessed by the National Security Agency (NSA), the US signals intelligence service,” he says.
Gapper is referring to the revelations that the agency can tap into the data of anyone using not only Apple products but also Google and Facebook services too. Gapper calls this a disaster for Silicon Valley, adding that it will make those outside the US think much more seriously about opting to use non-American products and social networks. “Huawei will presumably be delighted, Apple angry, and Ms Peng will change her phone,” he predicts.
In fact, the FT thinks this a substantial PR coup for Beijing. First, it vindicates its decision not to permit US services like Facebook to work in China, choosing instead to foster domestic alternatives like Baidu, Sina Weibo and Tencent WeChat (“that once seemed like trade protection,” writes Gapper. “Now it looks prudent”). Secondly, it makes US politicians look hypocritical in their efforts to block Huawei from selling its own telecoms equipment in America. American legislators have blocked Huawei on the grounds that it is linked to the Chinese army, says the FT. But spying on foreigners via US tech firms seems to be fair game. “The NSA has been revealed to be doing exactly what Western politicians feared from Huawei. It has been exploiting domestic companies like Apple to monitor foreign citizens,” Gapper concludes.
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