Privacy: is your smartphone ever really yours?
According to Privacy International, “You might think you own your phone – but there is data on there you can't access, you can't delete, and possibly is being silently leaked to companies you've never heard of.”
What can I do to keep my data private?
Privacy International’s website has useful guides on how to limit the amount of data you share. These include how to block data-collecting ads and crossapp tracking on your smartphone, and tutorials on how to get your data back from apps like Facebook, Uber, Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram.
Which brands are involved in facial recognition?
Google, Apple, Huawei and Samsung are major developers of AI technology, including facial recognition. Campaign organisation Big Brother Watch is running the campaign ‘Stop Facial Recognition’. It says
“Police and private companies in the UK have been quietly rolling out facial recognition surveillance cameras, taking ‘faceprints’ of millions of people – often without you knowing about it. That’s biometric data as sensitive as a fingerprint … This is an enormous expansion of the surveillance state.”
This technology is being used in the UK, and by oppressive regimes like Israel and China.
According to The Intercept news, Google provides advanced AI services to the Israeli military that it claims could enable “sentiment analysis that claims to assess the emotional content of pictures”. This type of technology can worsen the increasingly data-driven military occupation of Palestine, which one Palestinian digital rights advocate at The Arab Center for Social Media Advancement says operates to “create the panopticon feeling among Palestinians that we are being watched all the time”.
In 2021, a Huawei patent emerged which discussed “a system that identifies people who appear to be of Uyghur origin among images of pedestrians”. The software could send a “Uyghur alarm” to government authorities when its system identified members of the oppressed minority group, which could help facilitate the ongoing imprisonment of Uyghur people in forced labour camps.
Should we avoid Chinese phone companies?
China operates a mass surveillance state, silencing human rights defenders, restricting the internet, curtailing civic freedoms, and interning Uyghur Muslims. China introduced a National Intelligence Law in 2017 which requires “all organisations and citizens” to “support, assist and co-operate with national intelligence efforts” – meaning companies are legally obliged to hand data over to the government if it asks for it.
Chinese multinational Huawei says it has never been asked to hand over customer data to the government and would not do so even if required by law (but really it doesn’t seem like it would have an option). No definitive evidence of Huawei leaking data to the government has been found.
In 2019, former president Trump prohibited Huawei from doing business with any organisation operating in the US. In 2020, the then UK prime minister Boris Johnson committed to removing all Huawei components from use in the core government network by 2023. Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have some bans on Huawei. In 2021, Lithuania’s Defence Ministry said consumers should throw away Chinese phones, claiming one Xiaomi phone had built-in tools that could detect and censor terms such as “Free Tibet” or “democracy movement”.
However, given the context, some have questioned whether this is driven by xenophobia and “former President Trump’s propensities to see virtually any activity in China from Huawei’s 5G innovations to COVID-19 as nefarious threats aimed directly at the US, its allies and the entire world.”
The Tibetan Youth Congress calls for a boycott of China. However, lots of products contain Chinese components without being labelled as such, so a full boycott would be difficult to do. Read our article ‘Should we boycott “made in China?”’ for ways to take a stand on human rights abuses by the government of China.