July 11, 2015 by ...
Xiaomi is headquartered in a totalitarian state and that’s the good news. The bad is that China is lead by the communist party which is extremely paranoid. They often make outlandish demands on local business in order to ensure that communism survives and threats are destroyed.
That’s bad news for you and me, especially if you care about things like privacy. For many Chinese this is less of a problem; they have grown accustomed to it. For people like Lei Jun, Xiaomi’s CEO, privacy is a non-sequitur. Being a card carrying member of China’s communist legislature, he seems happy to oblige. Why bite the hand that feeds him?
Proof of this was apparent when Xiaomi covertly sent sensitive user data and communications to the powers that be in Beijing. After a series of denials, Lei Jun and crew said they would cease and desist and better yet, store data on non-Chinese servers.
Doing such a thing sounded great, but this is China and good times rarely last. Re-read the opening of my piece to understand why this is true.
Communist party now demanding data be kept?
I’d previously blamed Xiaomi for its intransigence but now applaud its vision. I can see why it’s valued at $45 billion. By pilfering our data and passing it to the party, Xiaomi was merely signaling the inevitable, Beijing wants your data. And they want it so badly that your firm has no choice, by law you have to turn it over. Kudos for Xiaomi’s foresight and shame on Beijing’s insecurity.
Chinese officials are going to pass a cybersecurity law this year with Orwellian implications. For example, China can now shut down the Internet in times of ‘public security emergencies’.
This may sound reasonable, but once again re read the opening. Autocratic countries play loose when it comes to defining that term. Public Security Emergencies include everything from hiding the news that hundreds of tons of 40 year old meat are currently being sold, to prohibiting reportage on ‘tofu schools collapsing during an earthquake’ while their communist edifices next door stand proud.
Yeah, if the 2008 earthquake has happened today, Beijing would merely hit the kill switch and we in China would ostensibly be cut off from the rest of the world.
Crucial information must be stored and available to the CCP
More pertinent to Xiaomi is the rule that all ‘crucial information’ must be stored in China and Beijing gets to take a peek. This means that companies such as Xiaomi must pass along our data.
Of course the law says this pertains to ‘Chinese users’, but then again what does this mean? In convoluted logic that bathes Beiijing, we are all Chinese users. After all, we are using Chinese tech, stored on Chinese data farms.
Think this sounds inane? Then you really don’t understand China. What other country claims all people of its ethnicity its citizens, irrespective of their place of birth? China has been doing this for eons. According to the party, Chinese born in America are not Americans, but ‘overseas Chinese’.
It’s no stretch to claim that by using their hardware and services, we too are beholden to the machinations of Beijing.
The implications of this
What this means is that after passage of the law, Xiaomi et al can keep our data while hiding behind the skirt of their autocratic mother. It’s not like this data intrusion is crippling to most of us. At best Beijing gets an earful on how despised they are. But the real issue is that their attitude just plain sucks.
One would like to think they have a modicum of privacy and absent emailing nuclear launch codes or instructions on a Jihad, our data will not raise eyebrows. The algebra changes when Beijing gets involved. Declare your allegiance to the Dali Lama or agree with Liu Xiaobo and you’ll no doubt be put on a PRC ‘watch list’. Xiaomi will merely be conforming to local laws and screwing us in the process.