Where Did That Technology Originate?

January 23, 2020

Western tech companies have been under fire for cooperating with China’s efforts to spy on its own citizens. Google and Apple have both been criticized for censoring apps and other content the Chinese government found problematic. Now, BuzzFeed tells us that “Amazon, Apple, and Google Are Distributing Products from Companies Building China’s Surveillance State.” Reporters Rosalind Adams and Ryan Mac write:

“The goods and apps come from three companies — Division, Dahua Technology, and iFlytek — which the US Commerce Department recently placed on an export blacklist for their role in aiding in the surveillance and detention of more than a million Uighur Muslims and other Muslim ethnic minorities in China’s northwest Xinjiang region. The blacklist designation prevents US companies from exporting commodities or software to those companies. But it does not stop Amazon and eBay from selling their products in their own online marketplaces, or Google and Apple from distributing their apps to US consumers. BuzzFeed News’ findings underscore, however, the extent to which the technology industry’s leading companies continue to work with entities that supply surveillance software and cameras to watch over one of the world’s most persecuted ethnic minorities. BuzzFeed News counted hundreds of products from Dahua and Hikvision, which manufacture security system equipment, and iFlytek, a voice recognition and translation company, on Amazon, eBay, and Overstock. Apple and Google also collectively distributed more than 100 apps from the three Chinese companies on the Apple App Store and Google Play, the main marketplace for Android software.”

The article supplies more information about Hikvision, Dahua Technology, and iFlytek and the products they sell, so navigate there for those details. Western companies risk being expelled from China if they do not cooperate with the government’s demands, and it is hard to turn down the profits a market of 1.4 billion people offers. However, it is difficult for Western democracies to put pressure on China to change its ways when our own companies support it. By vending these blacklisted companies’ apps and hardware through their online marketplaces, the tech giants embrace a loophole. Doing so is further evidence they value profits over principles.

Cynthia Murrell, January 23, 2020

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