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Big Brother is watching, but not the one you know

Chinese tech company Huawei poses privacy risks to Canadians

By Carlie Vassos, February 1 2019 —

As technological innovations push forward, Canadian consumers blindly gobble up each shiny new toy created by the big three technology companies — Apple, Samsung and Google. However, over the past few years, Canada has welcomed even more foreign companies to the market, the most prevalent among them being Huawei.

As a global giant, Huawei manufactures telecommunications equipment and electronics. The company has laid submarine cables from Asia to Africa and has become the world’s third-largest smartphone maker after Samsung and Apple. Even if you don’t know much about the company, you’ve probably seen advertising for their new smartphones, the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro.

If you haven’t kept up with the latest phone buzz, there’s still a chance the company’s name has caught your eye in the news. On Dec. 1, 2018, the chief finanical officer and deputy chairwoman of Huawei’s board, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Vancouver on American allegations that she had lied to banks as part of a scheme led by Huawei to avoid United States sanctions against Iran. Huawei has faced harsh criticism from the U.S. for years, with intelligence officials discouraging Americans from using products made by the company. However, due to a lack of hard evidence of Huawei breaching public security, other countries that support Huawei have not expressed serious concern.

So should Canadians be concerned over Huawei’s reach into Canada? According to the Globe and Mail, the federal government has run tests since 2013 on Huawei’s equipment to investigate whether their products could be used for Chinese espionage. Although not much could be publicly said on the findings, this suggests that the public should be skeptical about potentially compromised devices from Huawei. The Globe also reports that under Chinese law, corporations must “support, cooperate with and collaborate in national intelligence work.” It’s easy to understand U.S. fears about Huawei when the foundation of the company has been built on China’s People’s Liberation Army and given that the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, was once a surveillance officer.

Valid concerns could be raised if Huawei were to acquire control over a large part of the telecommunications market in North America. This access could also be used to intercept or even shut down all communications from Huawei devices.

Unlike Apple or Samsung smartphones, one of the new features on Huawei phones — which is as intriguing as it is worrisome — is that the phones are able to use facial recognition and light-sensitive software to capture images in almost any lighting. In addition, Huawei phones use body-tracking and image stabilization technology to take clear images of any person or locale.

Huawei smartphones are becoming more popular, with over one million Canadians now owning one. But many don’t know that the technology used is the same as that of CCTV cameras used for Chinese security and police surveillance. The same technology that we allow in the most personal spaces of our lives can be used to survey millions of people in real-time.

When you lose the ability to consent to how your data is used, you become an exposed, vulnerable and expendable data point in a larger system. Be aware of how your technology is keeping tabs on you.

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