Huawei campaigns to UK public amid negative publicity
While the debate over whether to ban Huawei from 5G networks continues, the Chinese vendor is appealing directly to the UK public.
Huawei is facing a difficult time over US-led action. The US has called on its allies to ban the Chinese vendor from 5G networks over national security concerns and has threatened to cut-off intelligence cooperation with countries that refuse. Spooked operators are turning to Western vendors for their equipment.
Meanwhile, Huawei’s addition to a US ban list jeopardises its global consumer device business. Before receiving a reprieve, the company was blocked from Android updates, lost partnerships with ARM, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Intel, and exiled from important groups like the WiFi Alliance, SD Association, and Bluetooth SIG.
It’s all not a good look for Huawei. The 90 percent trade-in value drop of Huawei’s latest flagship smartphone is evidence of how it’s affecting public opinion.
Huawei has previously used advertising in a bid to influence the perception of its business. The company took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year calling on the public to “not believe everything” they hear and invited American media to visit its Chinese headquarters.
Telecoms was part of a paid and strictly guided tour of Huawei’s facilities in China a few years ago and found no glaring cause for concern. However, we have expressed concerns about Huawei strictly forbidding even audio recordings during recent interviews.
Similar to its advertisement in the WSJ, Huawei is now appealing directly to the UK public. Here’s an advert displayed on Facebook this morning:
The advert speaks of a “fully united Britain” and that connectivity “brings a nation together,” seemingly alluding to current Brexit-related divisions. Furthermore, the ad speaks of connectivity boosting the economy which appears to play on global trade fears (the US-China trade war in particular, of which Huawei has found itself in the crossfire.)
Following the link sends us to a page of Huawei UK facts which cites investment figures, the creation of jobs, tax contributions, R&D partnerships, and more. The page is clearly designed to help change the narrative of Huawei in the UK and highlight its positive contributions.
Right at the end of its page, Huawei makes a point that it’s “a 100% privately held company” which puts “cybersecurity and privacy protection at the very top” of its agenda.
Concerns from UK intelligence
As its closest ally, the world’s eyes have been on the UK’s response pressure from the US to ban Huawei. A leak from a National Security Council meeting suggested the UK would allow Huawei equipment in ‘non-core’ parts of 5G networks.
The UK government maintains a decision has not yet been made and will be determined based on its security reviews instead of US pressure. Today, a senior UK cybersecurity official made a damning assessment of Huawei.
Ian Levy, Technical Director of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, said:
“Huawei as a company builds stuff very differently to their Western counterparts. Part of that is because of how quickly they’ve grown up, part of it could be cultural – who knows.
What we have learnt as a result of that, the security is objectively worse, and we need to cope with that.”
Levy claims he’s yet to see any progress from Huawei in addressing concerns, which is corroborated by other security officials.
The UK has a dedicated facility called HCSEC (Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre) in Banbury. HCSEC assesses Huawei equipment before use in UK infrastructure and issues an annual report of its findings.
Until last year, HCSEC advised that it believes security risks from Huawei equipment are mitigable. The 2018 report highlighted concerns about Huawei’s engineering processes. Huawei said it welcomed the report and would take measures to address the concerns.
This year, HCSEC released its assessment that Huawei had not addressed concerns and criticised its slow progress. Even more concerning, HCSEC said it had identified further issues which pose a risk to UK networks.
Western governments are primarily concerned about Chinese state influence over Huawei’s operations, claiming they’d be forced to comply with a request to assist with espionage. Huawei maintains that it operates free of Chinese state control.
Earlier this week, Huawei Chair Liang Hua said the company would be prepared to sign a ‘no-spy agreement’ during a UK visit. In February, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei said he would rather shut the company down than be ordered to conduct surveillance on behalf of the Chinese state.
In a foreword to a report (PDF) from the Henry Jackson Society, former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove wrote: “No part of the Communist Chinese state is ultimately able to operate free of the control exercised by its Communist party leadership. Therefore, we must conclude the engagement of Huawei presents a potential security risk to the UK.”
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