Ban Huawei before it’s too late

Do you know why the power kept turning on in the middle of the night in Africa’s most important building?

It wasn’t the workers going back in to deal with emergencies, or to steal stationary.

When a utilities company in Ethiopia raised a red flag about electricity usage in the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, the investigation discovered that in the middle of the night, all the servers had been switching on between 2am and 4am, and without prompt had been sending all the building’s data to somewhere in Hong Kong.

For five years.

Have a guess at who provided $200m of funding to build the HQ, and who provided all of the telecommunications and electronics for the AU.

China, and Huawei.

That’s where the opposition to Huawei began, when French newspaper Le Monde broke this incredible story. China, through Huawei, was stealing some of the most important data in Africa, under the pretence of investment and partnership.

It makes a mockery of this remarkable painting that I saw at the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic Art Exhibition at the Chinese Art Museum in Shanghai last year:

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Not for Africa in the Belt and Road programme of Chinese investment, and not for us with our array of social media apps, phones, and software programs.

If the product is free, then you are the product. It’s true for Africa and it’s true for us. Because it’s not just Huawei who is intent on spying on us and taking our data.

Here’s what Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capital, writes:

We thought that we search Google, but now we understand that Google searches us. We assumed that we use social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us. We barely questioned why our new TV or mattress had a privacy policy, but we’ve begun to understand that “privacy” policies are actually surveillance policies.

More on her incredible book and its implications tomorrow.

For today though, you only need to look at the prison-like civilisation that is Xinjiang to realise where this takes us.

There, every house has a camera pointed at its front door, and a QR code next to the entrance so that government officials can quickly scan to check who lives inside and what information exists on them.

There are 40,000 facial recognition cameras in Xinjiang alone.

One might as well be in a prison, because everything is monitored. Every potentially dangerous tool in the house is coded and registered to your ID. If you do anything out of line, the authorities will be on to you straightaway. It’s a prison of the mind if nothing else.

And with over one million Uighurs already imprisoned for “re-education” and “employment training” (brainwashing and forced labour), you really don’t want to put even a toe out of line as a Muslim in Xinjiang.

The thing is, China isn’t alone in keeping tabs on hundreds of millions of people. It’s just the least subtle about it.

Who made you the chieftain?

In “Sweetheart Like You”, Bob Dylan sang:

Steal a little and they throw you in jail

Steal a lot and they’ll make you the King.

That’s slightly how I feel about Facebook, Google, Microsoft and the like.

Data theft is a crime. But mass data theft seems to be the fastest way to a trillion-dollar stockmarket valuation.

When I read that Facebook had taken the bold and nearly unprecedented step of monitoring and removing false content about coronavirus from its platform, these thoughts struck me:

Who made Facebook the judge? Who made it the source of medical truth? And who will hold it to account?

You see Facebook has claimed so much of our social and material lives by tapping into our connections with one another that it now sees itself as a medical, political and moral authority.

I’ve been talking about Huawei and Xinjiang as examples of surveillance, data theft and the like.

But as a young man, a football coach who commanded enormous respect from all of us always responded to claims and complaints about others: “Mind your own business first, only then can you mind someone else’s.”

The point clearly being to take the Facebook out of your own eye before you point at the speck in someone else’s.

You see, we in the West are hardly any better off than many in China. Its surveillance and suppression is more brazen and clearer, but the stealth and silence of ours is all the more threatening for its secrecy.

How has it reached the stage where the team at Facebook is asserting its right to say what is useful information about fighting coronavirus, and what is not?

What happens if a cure that Facebook has blocked from its platform turns out to be successful? Who will hold it to account?

Given that roughly 0% of the information coming from China is trustworthy anyway, how on earth is Facebook deciphering truth from fiction amongst all the rumours? I understand that Facebook is deriving its decision making from third parties including the World Health Organisation, but that still leaves plenty of room for adaptation and independence from team Zuckerberg.

Is truth now whatever Facebook says it is? I certainly hope not.

So we’ve looked at China’s surveillance and dodgy data practices – that stuff’s obvious.

But tomorrow, I want to take a closer look at how we in the West are subject to exactly the same levels of intrusion and data slavery, the only difference being that we don’t realise it.

Boaz Shoshan has been looking at the four-trillion dollar companies over in the US – the MAGA group of American superstars: Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon.

Once you start to scratch at the surface of what these companies are doing, you start to see the extent of their power. 5G is the next amplification of their power, and their revenues too.

Data is the new gold, and the next gold rush is 5G. And remember what they say: when there’s a rush on gold, sell shovels.

All the best,

Kit Winder
Investment Research Analyst, Southbank Investment Research

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