Android Security

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Huawei Phones If You Care About Privacy

Ryan Dube 13-09-2018

What would you say if I said that your Huawei phone could be spying on you? You’d probably call me a conspiracy theorist. But would you believe that the United States intelligence community feels the same way?


Whether you’ve had previous concerns, or are worried about the privacy of your own Huawei phone, here’s what you need to know.

Are Anti-Huawei Claims Protectionism?

Early in 2018, the head of six major US intelligence agencies issued a warning at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. They warned that US citizens shouldn’t use any commercial products offered by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE.

Numerous tech media outlets dismissed claims from the intelligence community as nothing more than “protectionism”. Tech journalists claimed that there was no solid evidence supporting those claims.

In January of 2018, Motherboard tech journalist Karl Bode wrote that there’s no evidence to support the claims against Huawei:

“The problem: nobody has provided a shred of hard evidence that the company has done anything wrong, raising the question of whether this is glorified protectionism hiding behind the banner of national security.”

However, the US intelligence community isn’t the only government intelligence community to issue such warnings.


Governments Warn Against Huawei

Also in 2018, the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre advised telecommunication companies in the U.K. to avoid technology offered by Chinese firm ZTE. The reason? That state-owned ZTE presents a “risk to U.K. national security that could not be mitigated effectively or practicably.”

In 2016, an immigration officer at the Hong Kong consulate in Canada denied immigration applications for two Chinese Huawei employees. The consulate implied that there was evidence of espionage not available to the public. The denial letter stated:

“…there are reasonable grounds to believe that you are a member of the inadmissible class of persons described in section 34(1)(f) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.”

Are these warnings really based on nothing at all? Or are they founded upon real intelligence evidence? History shows that there is reason to believe that Huawei phones are a very real personal and national security risk.

Huawei and the Communist Party

In the 2018 Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, FBI Director Chris Wray explained that much of the concern relates to the very unsettling relationship between all Chinese companies and the Chinese Communist Party.


Wray stated that the government was:

“…deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.”

The statement “beholden to foreign governments” is a reference to a Communisty Party law that requires all Chinese companies to work for State intelligence agencies if requested. The Communist Party often writes itself into company law, and there’s nothing the company or investors can do about it.

This means that if Huawei were to acquire control over a large part of the telecommunications market in the Western world, the Chinese intelligence community could potentially have access to user data. It could also intercept, or even shut down, all communications from those devices.

The risk is apparently high enough that the Pentagon bans the sale or use of Huawei or ZTE phones on US military bases. Pentagon spokesman Maj. Dave Eastburn hinted that intelligence communities have substantial evidence of a serious threat. He told Fox News, “For security reasons, I can’t get into the technical aspects of potential threats.”


The Canadian government may not be as vocal as the US intelligence community on the matter. But according to Global News, these same devices are also banned from use on Canadian military bases.

Huawei Is Not an Innocent Victim

Tech journalists writing that animosity toward Huawei is unfounded are overlooking the history. There is in fact evidence that justifies avoiding the use of Huawei, KTE, or any other Chinese-made telecommunication products:

  • The CEO and founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, joined the Communist Party in 1978. He was also a high ranking member in the engineer corps for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
  • In 2016, numerous Chinese phones, including one branded as “Blu”, were infected with third-party firmware from Shanghai Adups Technology. That software transmitted user data back to Chinese servers.
  • In 2012, a group of former intelligence officers known as the Langley Intelligence Group Network (LIGNET) published a surpising report. According to the group, “a sensitive LIGNET source associated with Huawei” reported that Huawei had used an “undisclosed electronic backdoor that allowed it remote access to the company’s equipment without permission.”
  • In 2014, a Huawei engineer was caught hacking a mobile tower in Andhra Pradesh. This compromised the Indian government owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam’s (BSNL) network.
  • A 2015 FBI intelligence report indicated that Huawei had been subsidized by the Chinese government to the tune of $100 billion. This begs the question, what does the Chinese government get in return for that substantial investment?
  • Huawei has been accused of stealing trade secrets from numerous major US companies like Motorola, Cisco, and T-Mobile.

In fact, some claim that the Chinese government’s real interest isn’t national security, but obtaining trade secrets from Western companies. So the real risk of a private citizen owning a Hauwei phone may be if that citizen works for a major US corporation.

Sending and receiving company information over that phone could put trade secrets at risk.


How to Protect Yourself

It is true that you face threats to your privacy and security from other sources that have nothing to do with China. There’s NSA spying 5 Times Your Data Was Shockingly Handed Over to the NSA Many companies hand over information to the NSA without a second thought. Here are some high-profile organizations that gave the NSA access to user data. Read More , Facebook security failures 4 Reasons Why Facebook Is a Security and Privacy Nightmare Facebook is no longer the king of the social media castle. If you value your anonymity, security, and privacy, here are some great reasons to quit Facebook today. Read More , and constant phishing threats How to Protect Yourself From Extortion Phishing Scams Scammers are guilt-shaming users of adult material with threats of sharing their online habits in the "You Should Be Ashamed Of Yourself" extortion phishing scam. Find out what this is, and how to avoid it. Read More .

But the threat of Huawei and other Chinese companies tied so closely to the Chinese Government is an entirely different beast. It’s unnerving to think that yet another government might be trying to view your communications 5 Times Your Data Was Shockingly Handed Over to the NSA Many companies hand over information to the NSA without a second thought. Here are some high-profile organizations that gave the NSA access to user data. Read More and your web usage. Because the malware is baked right into the firmware, it’s nearly impossible for a regular user to identify that it exists.

But what’s more disturbing is the risk that involves your day job.

Professional using a phone

Consider a scenario where you may use a Hauwei or KTE phone to have a conversation with a friend or a work colleague. It could be a discussion about a business deal, a programming project you’re working on, or important business meetings. You could inadvertently pass along proprietary information to a foreign government without even realizing it.

What global intelligence communities are hinting to the world is that there is enough evidence in their posession to warrant banning these phones from military bases and governments. Even if you don’t believe them, history has turned up enough wrongdoing by these companies to justify very real concern.

Avoiding phones made by Chinese manufacturers is a good start. But don’t forget that there are many other things you need to do to protect the security of your personal data 7 Shifty Ways Your Smartphone Is Violating Your Privacy Can you really have privacy on a smartphone? Let's take a look at the huge phone privacy risks associated with using one. Read More . For starters, watch out for stalkerware What Is Stalkerware and How Does It Affect Android Phones? Tracking malware called stalkerware can be secretly installed on your phone. Here's what you need to look for and avoid. Read More . Switching to more secure tools and services also helps. If you don’t want to go hunting for them, try a ready-made suite of services like Librem One, which is driven by open source software What Is Librem One? The Pros, Cons, and Whether It's Worth It Open-source hardware company Purism has released a collection of social privacy apps called Librem One. Read More .

Related topics: Smartphone Privacy, Smartphone Security.

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  1. Floria
    April 19, 2019 at 1:22 am

    You could write a similar article about every government and corporation in the world. What would me more useful is a step by step 'how to' for increase in security on all phones. I'd rather have a truly ethical phone without minerals that cause genocides and slave labour, but until that's widely available I don't see my used Huawei with the kick ass camera any worse than an iPhone. Peace :)

  2. Rob
    April 3, 2019 at 1:03 am

    According to the Dutch security agency note from today April 2, the use of any Chinese or Russian equipment like cell phones and 5G routers must be considered a security risk. Of course a lot of the comments by self proclaimed security specialist here tell the opposite........

  3. Dingle McGringle
    January 22, 2019 at 5:40 am

    Garbage article full of nonsense. You reference the Indian case of Huawei allegedly hacking a mobile tower - linking to your own article that has no facts in it whatsoever. This is really bad journalism.

    If China was routinely harvesting data from smartphones sold in the West then 1) there WOULD be evidence. On a technical level, someone would have uncovered the 'call to home' from the device, even if it was encrypted. 2) it would seriously jeopardise China's ability to trade abroad. This would be a dumb move and I just cannot see that they would be that careless. The Chinese government doesn't want to know that you're asking your husband to put the oven on..

    Now, when it comes to systematic survellance of high-value targets, we're talking spying and in that realm, I'd advise you to look closer to home.

    • Freddie
      January 28, 2019 at 7:20 am


  4. david
    January 4, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    So, is the Intelligence Community lying about this?

    Or are they lying about Russian intervention in the 2016 election?

    Or are they telling the truth about both?

    Or are they lying about both?

    The Intelligence Community does not release any information to the public without an ulterior motive.

    Your move.

    • andrew
      September 8, 2019 at 11:49 am

      The US intelligence community is not trustworthy. Who would trust them after the Snowden revelations? Seriously.

    • andrew
      September 8, 2019 at 11:52 am

      Time to buy a Chinese phone so the untrustworthy US security community can't gain backdoor access quite so easily.

  5. Radu Tudoran
    December 28, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    "Don't buy Huawei phones..." because the CIA says so. That's it. No other reason. No hard facts. Not a single shred of evidence that CIA and others claims are true. Very uninformative article.

  6. lyndon
    November 24, 2018 at 9:03 am

    and you are not concerned by Apple, Google, Microsoft doing the same thing?
    These companies feed information directly to the american government. That is terrifying.

  7. alan trinder
    September 29, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Maybe the Chinese are much more cunning than this, do they not manufacture the Iphone?

  8. darrin
    September 29, 2018 at 4:21 am

    should worry more about how the NSA and FBI spying software right here in the USA.

    • Me Me2
      September 29, 2018 at 12:19 pm

      That is exactly why they don't want anyone to have these phones. Our government snoops have no back door in to monitor you.
      And lets say the Chinese did monitor you, what could the possibly gain ?

      • Ryan Dube
        September 29, 2018 at 3:40 pm

        As mentioned in the article, a foreign government gaining access to your company's proprietary information you may share with colleagues or customers can have disastrous impact on not only your company, but also on how competitive your country can be in that industry.

        Historically, Chinese companies have been found to reverse engineee innovations of foreign companies and then turn around and offer competitive products in the same marketplace.

        If you use a Huawei phone and accidentally share proprietary information with a foreign government using that phone, you've just contributed not only to the eventual demise of your company's competitiveness, but also reduced your own country's ability to compete in the global marketplace.

    September 29, 2018 at 3:16 am



  10. x64.bits
    September 29, 2018 at 12:58 am

    The sky is falling... The sky is falling...
    I've been hearing this for years and take the information like a grain of salt.
    I been using the Huawei mate 9 for years and have absolutely encountered no issues at all.

  11. Paul G
    September 29, 2018 at 12:48 am

    Of course ,it's perfectly OK for the major US intelligence agencies to infringe our privacy.

  12. Paul G
    September 29, 2018 at 12:47 am

    Of course, it's perfectly ok for the 6 major US intelligence agencies to infringe our privacy

    • Ryan Dube
      September 29, 2018 at 2:23 pm

      Hi Paul. I don't follow what you're saying. Who said it's OK for US intelligence agencies to infringe our privacy? That's an entirely different matter.

  13. Albert Yen
    September 28, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    Is this article a paid propaganda? U.S. government has all my communications not matter what phone I use.

  14. Wil
    September 28, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Unlike iphone etc ,huawei is not controlled by the North American government and are a security threat. Obviously they don't comply.

    It does not matter if they are chinese....

  15. ray
    September 28, 2018 at 3:50 pm

    Here's the thing...everyone is spying on everyone. I'd rather use the Chinese phone...what are they going to do with my info? The US government has a much higher chance of using information against me.

  16. Jack Lam
    September 18, 2018 at 3:39 am

    Totally nonsense! It is only a piece of phone and you judge to use it for what. :(

  17. Srdjan
    September 14, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    The truth is that Huawei is on the way to become serious threat to iphone and Samsung. Btw, security on the net is not possible, all talk about it is just a matter of politics and/or financial wars between new-tech giants.

  18. mehfooz ul hassan
    September 14, 2018 at 10:03 am

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  19. Tony T
    September 14, 2018 at 3:56 am

    Meh, they're cheap and good enough that could prob just use a secure VPN like ExpressVPN at all times and be fine.

  20. john313
    September 14, 2018 at 12:06 am

    Dreadful fear-mongering dribble. The US government has got the resources to *technically* identify threats. They used the same tactics against Kaspersky, the anti-virus company, without providing proof. They were certainly quiet about Kaspersky until after an election lost and Russia was accused of doing what the US has been doing for decades.

    As citizens, we should demand more transparency from our own government lest we be used as pawns in some old & tired political game of chicken.

    If you haven't been paying attention, FUD & propaganda are at fever pitches. I am sick and tired of the BS, the leaks, the innuendos, the cesspool of criminal activity by those sworn to uphold the values of this country. You should be too.

    • Ryan Dube
      September 14, 2018 at 4:03 am

      John, you could be right in a way. I mean I've read a lot of old FOIA documents that show the FBI was a bit fear-mongering back in the 70s and 80s regarding the communist "subversive threat" in the United States during that time. They even investigated the likes of Lucille Ball and John Steinbeck for being potential communists!

      On the other hand, it did turn out that there really were a handful of communist spies running around pretending to be law-abiding American citizens...

      So while it's true there's a lot of fear-mongering going on, I'm not 100% on board with the idea that it isn't being triggered by some kind of existing evidence.

      • ReadandShare
        September 16, 2018 at 4:48 am

        Propaganda, fear mongering, and yes, fake news too are almost always built on "some kind of existing evidence" - and spinned from there. That's the sinister bit that trips up most people. Food for thought.

        70's and 80's? Let's try 2000's. Wasn't Saddam Hussein a rotten guy? Yes. And that little 'kernel of truth' got worked all the way to Iraq's supposed WMD's and "imminent nuclear attack capability". STATE DEPT. even put together a few slick powerpoints to "prove" at the UN General Assembly. And it was all a farce. But we (America) got what we wanted all along... control of Iraq... which turned out to be one big regret. But you get the drift. Be wary. It's not all just in the past.

  21. Yololo
    September 13, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    "Because the malware is baked right into the firmware, it’s nearly impossible for a regular user to identify that it exists"


    • Ryan Dube
      September 13, 2018 at 11:14 pm

      The federal government warning is pretty good evidence of wrongdoing. However, you took the sentence out of context. The line right before it read:

      "It’s unnerving to think that yet another government might be trying to view your communications and your web usage"

      The word might presents the scenario where this could be happening. The sentence you quoted explains that if that scenario is true, there's no way you as a regular user will be able to detect it like the government/feds can.

      I'm sure in time the feds will eventually present their case. Until then, all we can do as users is use caution and avoid the phones entirely.

  22. Armakuni
    September 13, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    Avoid chinese manufacturers? What about avoiding US companies which smartphones are produced in China?

    • Ryan Dube
      September 14, 2018 at 4:08 am

      Actually, that's a valid point.

  23. Paul Adams
    September 13, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    And the difference between this and an Apple or Android phone which is manufactured in China is what, exactly?
    The line of "Oh, Apple or Google wouldn't allow that" doesn't work. If rumours are true, Pixel 3 phones were taken off the assembly line and moved from China to Russia.

    • Ryan Dube
      September 14, 2018 at 4:11 am

      True -- although I don't believe Apple or Google is required by the Communist Party to work for the Chinese State Intelligence agencies if requested.

      This is really the dangers most U.S. security officials are referring to when they talk about the threat posed by companies like Huawei:

      "The statement “beholden to foreign governments” is a reference to a Communisty Party law that requires all Chinese companies to work for State intelligence agencies if requested. The Communist Party often writes itself into company law, and there’s nothing the company or investors can do about it."

      • dragonmouth
        September 16, 2018 at 8:53 pm

        "True -- although I don't believe Apple or Google is required by the Communist Party to work for the Chinese State Intelligence agencies if requested."
        No, they just roll over for the NSA, FBI, CIA and any other alphabet agency that gets an itch for mobile phone users' data.

        I have a choice selection of bridges in various cities for sale to anybody that believes that ANY mobile phone is secure and private.

      • TucsonGuy
        September 28, 2018 at 7:57 pm

        They may not be beholden to work for the Chinese State Intelligence agencies if requested, but if some Google employees are to be believed, they're volunteering and begging to do so.

  24. therealvasanth
    September 13, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    How about the other chinese mobile companies ??? Eg: oppo, vivo, xiomi, poco, etc ?