Articles, Columns

The Price of Privacy

Written by Eric Yuan and Kevin Gu
Edited by Anson Yeh

With the never-ending advancements in our society since the industrial revolution, progress has been unidirectional with minimal sign of changing course. Innovation is synonymous with speed and efficiency. Humanity has grown to constantly strive forward, resulting in a blind eye being turned to the potential consequences. However, a strong reaction has recently risen to hinder this progression in favor of preserving privacy. The steps that they have taken have led to a potential trade war within the industrialized world.

The Birth of 5G
To keep up with the ever-evolving technological advancements of our society, countries have to rely on different companies to stay competitive. Within the wireless mobile network sector, most countries have managed to attain the 4th generation of wireless standard, known as 4G. According to Qualcomm, a company specializing in wireless technology, 5G wireless technology is meant to deliver much higher data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users. It’s said that this new wireless standard is going to enable a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. On top of that, contrary to popular internet disinformation, it does not spread COVID-19.

The much anticipated 5G revolution has been gradually adopted by many companies, but not all. Countries are thus forced to choose from a limited selection of telecommunication companies, notably Huawei and ZTE, two Chinese state backed leaders in the technological race. However, due to a number of different reasons, many countries around the globe have decided to avoid those names in favor of other Western competitors. 

Ever since rumors of the 5th generation began, telecommunication services have started dealing with big Chinese brands, particularly Huawei, to implement the infrastructure necessary to bring the 5G technology to their location in the future. These contracts promised an alluring amount of profit for the Chinese company, but also a cost-effective investment for their own country. That was, until all the controversies regarding China and Huawei exploded. 

The Current State of China and Its Companies
Recently, China has been constantly presented negatively in western media for various controversial topics. First came the issue surrounding the treatment of the Uighur and their abuse in Xinjiang, followed by the protests in Hong Kong and finally the appearance of the novel coronavirus. With constant conflicts between the Asian superpower and big western countries like the United States, Australia, and Canada, the nation is less and less viewed as a potential ally, which is also not surprising due to the clash of ideals and values between the two sides. Considering all these issues, it can be understood why China does not have a friendly relationship with most western countries.

 In addition, following an investigation by the United State’s Defence Department as well as China’s long-lasting history of potential IP theft, the United States has been actively trying to dissuade other countries from using Chinese-backed companies to implement the future technology for security and privacy issues. This call for boycotting has had important consequences for Huawei principally, having lost a lot of business partners around the world.

The Numerous Controversies of Huawei
Huawei has seen exponential success within the past two decades. However, the company was set ablaze in October 2012, when a U.S. congressional panel warned that Huawei posed a national threat to security, following an investigation. This news rapidly gained traction and worries furthered when the Chinese company overtook Apple to become the world’s second-biggest smartphone maker in 2018. In the following months, Australia and New Zealand chose to exclude Huawei from their 5G networks, claiming that the company was a threat to their national security and could commit cyber espionage. This fear stems from vague Chinese intelligence laws that could be used to force Huawei to hand over data to the Chinese government. Despite suffocating under all the allegations thrown around, the company has yet to be proven guilty of any acts of spying on other countries. 

The Creation of D10 Alliance
The United Kingdom has also followed suit with the D10 project and called an alliance with 9 other countries (France, Canada, the United States, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, Australia, India and South Korea) to try to create and develop a Western alternative to Chinese companies for 5G technology. Many telecommunications companies residing in these countries have already dropped their deals with Huawei. The members would instead funnel investments in companies based in those countries for a safer and more reliable choice that would also align with modern democratic views as set by western society. 

Currently, participating countries and other countries (such as Singapore) that respect the boycott towards the Chinese tech giants are considering companies like Ericsson (Swedish) and Nokia (Finnish) as their new partners. This renewal in interest for these nearly forgotten companies is a saving grace for these names as they will be the ones to benefit the most at the end of this.

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