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Spyware in apps reveal US hypocrisy

By Tom Fowdy | China Daily | Updated: 2020-08-20 07:31


The United States administration had utilized a contractor to embed spyware in more than 500 apps giving them the capability to track hundreds of millions of people worldwide, a US media outlet has reported. The company, known as Anomaly Six LLC, has ties with US intelligence and defense organizations, and according to the report, "provides global location data to branches of the US government and private-sector clients".

The Wall Street Journal report also says the procurement of such private data was in fact lawful, noting that: "According to interviews with numerous people in the industry, there is little regulation in the US about the buying and selling of location data."

This revelation comes at a critical point in time, just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intensified his assault on China-based telecom companies and networks, setting out what he described as a "clean network" initiative and ironically, pledging to protect American people's personal data.

In his speech, which laid the ground for US President Donald Trump's attacks on WeChat and TikTok, Pompeo pledged to purge Chinese telecommunications networks from the US, and Chinese apps from App Store and mobile devices. The US move comes on the back of an all-embracing paranoia which has sought to portray Chinese technologies as a threat to US national security, which lacks both evidence and reason.

The move, however, shows the US' abject hypocrisy. The so-called concerns for American people's personal data are not sincere and instead based solely upon political opportunism.

While WikiLeaks has given an insight into how US technology companies are co-opted into carrying out surveillance on behalf of the US National Security Agency, the other side of the coin is that private online data of individuals all around the world are effectively and rampantly commercialized by US technology companies both for profit and political gain. There is no "clean network" or "clean app" in the US. It's a total sham.

In the modern world of mass communications and social media, what the public often fails to recognize is that these services are not provided solely for their personal convenience, but because tech companies that provide them can use their personal data, which reveal every aspect of their lives and preferences, as a commercial product.

Google, for one, is not so much a search engine as it is a depository for every benign thought, question, interest and lifestyle preference of its users. Out of all this, there is money to be made. The huge revenues which they make out of advertising is not random, but tailored upon the utilization of this information that are then sold to third parties, which include Facebook and other social media companies or, of course, pushed "upward" to the US administration through its PRISM and ECHELON programs.

In this context, the news that Anomaly Six LLC is secretly infiltrating apps and then harvesting data on individuals, and selling them as products to US intelligence, defense and commercial parties is hardly surprising even if it is disturbing.

Despite all the US allegations against telecom giant Huawei and TikTok owner ByteDance and other Chinese high-tech companies, an unsettling premise is that harvesting the data of hundreds of millions of people around the world for the procurement of authorities is legitimate and legal business, and that this is being done discretely without the consent or knowledge of those people.

The apps involved are extensive in number, and not named in the initial report. How can the US government feasibly talk about a "clean network" and "clean apps" when this is going on?

Such news shows how shallow, opportunistic and hypocritical the talk of "data protection" really is. The US administration is doing everything it can to accuse China of almost everything. And ironically, it is injecting fear into the general public about Chinese technologies and apps, linking them to espionage and data harvesting, and vowing to protect people and their personal data when it is itself harvesting the data of hundreds of millions of people across the world, which would not have been revealed if it were not for journalistic leaks.

Individuals' data are big and lucrative business for US companies, and thus have been milked to maximum benefit on behalf of the administration. As a result, amid this revelation, it is fair to argue that Pompeo's claim of so-called "clean network" and "clean apps" is the claim of a snake oil salesman in a bid to distract the public from the deeds of a country where both government departments and private enterprises are working in tandem to harvest, politicize and profit from people's data, which the extent to which the US is involved in illegal activities.

The author is a British political and international relations analyst.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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