Could Huawei’s 2019 Products Spy on Americans?
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Is Huawei spying on Americans? Maybe, maybe not. But their CEO’s keynote speech at IFA 2019 avoided all concerns regarding privacy and the trade conflict. This article explains Huawei’s 2019 product lineup and potential privacy implications.

Richard Yu, Huawei’s CEO, skirted the micron-thin line separating privacy and espionage. While his speech announced Huawei’s latest system-on-a-chip, the Kirin 990 5G, the Pro version of the P30 smartphone, a WiFi-6 router, and a pair of true wireless earbuds, it did not deal with any other points of interest.

Kirin 990 5G Chipset Facial Recognition Privacy Implications

The key selling point of the Kirin 990 5G Huawei Kirin 990 5G: Powerful New Processor Integrates 5G Huawei Kirin 990 5G: Powerful New Processor Integrates 5G Huawei released a new smartphone processor, the Kirin 990 5G dual SoC. It's a substantial step forward and we explain why. Read More is its facial recognition abilities. Before AI-chips matured into what we have today, smartphones needed to run their processing cores at full power in order to recognize faces. If a smartphone were collecting its users’ faces, massive battery drain would immediately give the plot away. Manufacturers needed something less processing intensive.

This is a screen capture from IFA 2019 showing Richard Yu's presentation on how the Kirin 990 performs for AI processing

And that’s where specialized, low-power processors can assist facial recognition technologies. The Kirin 990 adds three special Neural Processing Units (NPU). The NPU cores are designed around three cores of dissimilar design, similar to ARM’s big.LITTLE. Huawei’s NPU technology use two larger cores and a single, small core. This arrangement allows the camera to scan and process faces faster, and more important, with greater energy efficiency than ever before—opening the door to passive snooping using facial recognition.

In other words, faces could be collected as easily as today’s smartphones collect individual voices and conversations.

Huawei Builds 5G Networks

Huawei leads its competitors in 5G cellular technology. And not only do they own significant amounts of intellectual property in its newly announced processor, they make the networking equipment that enables cellular providers to use 5G technology.

This is a photograph from Huawei's 2019 IFA keynote speech introducing 5G technology

In other words, Huawei builds the cellular networks themselves. In fact, the United States believes that were Huawei allowed to construct the United States’s 5G networks, it could open the door to future espionage exploits by China, using Huawei as a proxy.

Are Any Routers Secure? Huawei Q2 Pro

This is a photograph of the Huawei Q2 Pro WiFi router from IFA 2019

A router is one of the most sensitive components of your home network. A hacked or rogue router can do terrible things. For example, a malicious router can monitor all of a user’s internet traffic, it can perform man-in-the-middle attacks against anyone on the network, it can surreptitiously redirect users to spoofed websites, and more.

In 2013, security researcher, Eloi Benoist-Vanderbeken, discovered and reported a massive security vulnerability in 24 models of Linksys, Cisco, Diamond, and Netgear routers.  Despite promises to patch the security vulnerability, each company only disguised it. The vulnerability went unpatched until researchers discovered and unveiled the ruse. In the words of Benoist-Vanderbeken:

It was added on purpose, to reactivate the backdoor. This is 100% intentional.

Could Huawei’s latest router suffer from intentionally inserted backdoors leading back to China? Certainly. But according to Ars Technica’s reporting, US-based router companies were doing this at least as early as 2013 and probably much earlier.

No Evidence of Huawei Spying (on Americans)

In the current political and trade environment, it is unpopular stating the truth: that, despite the US government’s claims, no evidence proves Huawei’s involvement in spying on Americans or Europeans. But Huawei is not entirely without blame. There exists some evidence of Huawei’s meddling in Zambian and Ugandan domestic politics. In both cases, Huawei seemingly spied on the political opposition of elected officials.

It is therefore entirely possible that Huawei may spy on American citizens at the behest of foreign powers. In fact, all corporations that collect their customers’ data use it in order to make money. The issue is that when a US company illegally monitors, analyzes, and disseminates the personal details on American citizens, it’s called advertising. When a Chinese corporation engages in the same behavior, it’s called spying.

Explore more about: Huawei, IFA, Smartphone Privacy.

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  1. Charles Carter
    September 18, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    I really don't know the best course regarding trade policy and Huawei.
    But your article fails to mention the close ties of Huawei with the Chinese government. My understanding is that those ties, and the African political activities, are the cause for concerns about spying. China undoubtedly has as much interest in US politics and elections as Russia. To what degree do we want to enable their involvement?

    • kannon
      September 18, 2019 at 2:36 pm

      Most corporations have ties to governments in the countries that they come from. A little-known fact (revealed by various news organizations) is that the US trades intelligence secrets with its domestic corporations. I'm sure that Huawei and China are no different. Should the US allow Huawei into its civil infrastructure? I cannot say whether or not they should. But the point is that we are not angels and that we cannot claim any special moral advantage. The best option is to come to an agreement that allows for technology transfer between Huawei and US corporations (which is already happening).

      • John Smith
        September 22, 2019 at 1:15 pm

        "Most corporations have ties to governments in the countries that they come from. A little-known fact (revealed by various news organizations) is that the US trades intelligence secrets with its domestic corporations."

        This is about US being infiltrated by other countries, not the other way around.
        We'll deal with companies here which violate our privacy and rights. You seem to be trying to dismiss the dangers of US citizens getting spied on by foreign government and dismiss the dangers to US national security when US individuals, including gov employees being spied on by foreign governments through their state connected companies.
        Yes, we can claim special moral advantage despite what you think, and despite your skewed views on this and twisting of facts. But I guess repeating the talking points of the America hating left "but we do that too" made you fail to do your homework properly.

  2. X64. bits
    September 16, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    I own several Huawei products and have never had one single issue.

    Could there be a possibility of spying? Yes
    Is there any creible evidence of spying? NO
    At this time nobody has produce any shred of evidence.

    • John Smith
      September 22, 2019 at 1:17 pm

      "and have never had one single issue."
      How do you know for sure?
      You THINK you don't. Not proven.

      "Is there any creible evidence of spying? NO"
      You missed all the analysis from spy agencies from the US, EU, Autralia and the privacy experts?
      Well, you can ignore all that. That's your choice. Some of us prefer facts.

  3. JonZone
    September 15, 2019 at 3:00 am

    I fail to understand why people can't perceive that with billions of Chinese components in 'phones, computers, laptops, tablets, TV's etc; that there is the possibility that micro/nano spyware is installed during manufacture of those components.
    Facial recognition technology is situated all over the world along with other identification technology.

    • kannon
      September 15, 2019 at 6:38 am

      There isn't any evidence that Huawei employed firmware-based malware against the United States.

      Huawei is already offering to license out its 5G technology though so this trade dispute appears to be near an end.

      • John Smith
        September 23, 2019 at 9:16 pm

        "There isn't any evidence"
        Again, you seem to be either ignoring basic facts, or not aware of them.
        Also, there was an article published here making the case against Huawei. Are you saying makeuse of publishes lies?

        Or is doing research such a difficult task?

        gadgetsnow . com/ tech-news / us-found-evidence-against-huawei-through-secret-surveillance/articleshow/ 68738431 . cms

        That's just for starters.

  4. Yah
    September 8, 2019 at 5:03 am

    No chinese gadgets for me. I find them intrusive.

    • JonZone
      September 15, 2019 at 3:10 am

      Yah, you are using a Chinese 'gadget' to write a comment for an article which was written on a product by MUO containing Chinese components.
      You saw the article on a web site which travels through a modem with Chinese components and delivered by a server made with Chinese components.
      Ignorance is not possible Yah.

    • Eric
      September 18, 2019 at 5:08 am

      Yawn... I find Donald Trump intrusive. So what? Think Microsoft doesn't snoop? Google doesn't snoop? (hint: we know it does). Apple doesn't snoop? Yeah, right. The FBI doesn't snoop? Your local cops don't snoop. Kim Kartrashian, the slut, doesn't snoop?

      Go get a fecking life Yah, before you self destruct.

      • John Smith
        September 22, 2019 at 1:23 pm

        "I find Donald Trump intrusive"
        Easy solution. Leave the US.
        Problem solved.

        And while you are at it, stop telling people how to live their lives.

  5. Kaffeguy
    September 7, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    "When a US company illegally monitors, analyzes, and disseminates the personal details on American citizens, it’s called advertising. When a Chinese corporation engages in the same behavior, it’s called spying." We laughed at this but it is so true. I like Huawei Phones, Their laptops are excellent.

  6. Kaffeguy
    September 7, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    "When a US company illegally monitors, analyzes, and disseminates the personal details on American citizens, it’s called advertising. When a Chinese corporation engages in the same behavior, it’s called spying." We laughed at this because it is so true. I enjoy Huawei Phones and laptops.