The FBI and CIA Warn Against Buying Huawei and ZTE Phones

February 19, 2018 - 3 minutes read

China’s tech presence at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was higher than ever before, with companies like Alibaba and Baidu participating alongside smaller, but equally-as-ambitious Chinese tech startups. The country’s innovation combined with competition from the U.S. is great news for all consumers. Or is it?

Maybe you’ve heard of Huawei or ZTE and strongly considered upgrading your mobile phone to something non-conforming to the U.S. standard Apple or Samsung. But is that a good idea? Does a foreign hardware guarantee consumer safety? If not, does domestic technology promise security for the consumer?

Phone Paranoia or Patriotism?

Recent reports from the FBI, CIA, and NSA point to the scary theory that Chinese mobile developers Huawei and ZTE are bad news for the American consumer. FBI director Chris Wray says, “We’re 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.”

And we get that. But is the FBI implying that American technology is safer? The NSA’s lack of transparency in recent years has shaken many citizens to the core. So how can we trust its word on foreign technology and cybersecurity? It’s a baffling conundrum that puts the consumer in the middle with nothing to gain except respectful privacy, a quality that most people would say is a right.

The Only Certainty Is Uncertainty

This tension and distrust have been building up for some time and recently boiled to a new height at the aforementioned CES conference. Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business group, spoke out against AT&T’s earlier reneging of a partnership to sell phones in the U.S., a deal that was supposed to serve as Huawei’s main introduction into the American market. He questioned the distrust of the U.S. carriers and explained, “We’ve won the trust of the Chinese carriers. We’ve also won spots on all of the European carriers.”

Huawei’s official statement to the most recent FBI, CIA, and NSA report accuses the U.S. government of “inhibiting [Huawei’s] business in the U.S. market”. The company adds that they “pose no greater cybersecurity risk than any other ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities.”

The lack of transparency from both the U.S. government and foreign companies like Huawei and ZTE create uncertainty, rather than excitement, in consumers. Whether the technology is being developed in San Francisco or Beijing is not important; what’s important is a more transparent admission of what is being tracked, used, sold, and more at the consumers’ expense.

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