Is Huawei a servant of two masters?

estimated reading time: 2 minutes 

When it comes to data privacy and protection issues, all concerns are directed towards one country, where all the big bad companies who want to steal our secrets are. Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook are all linked to the United States. Especially after the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, it was US-based Facebook who ended up capturing all attention, having permitted the illegal use of data concerning millions of US citizens – even if the company in question was British.

Yet, one country should be equally worth of our headlines in matters of data protection, that is, China. The Asian giant passed its National Intelligence Law in 2017, which strengthened the Chinese government power to investigate potential national threats by seizing vehicles, devices and, most importantly, data. This might mean that, if requested to, Chinese firms would have to hand over users’ private data, were these to be considered important for “national security reasons”.

Among all data-storing companies, no one is succeeding at expanding its market and influence in Europe like Huawei, the largest telecoms equipment maker in the world. As it rises in popularity among EU users, what can we say about its commitment to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)?

Passed in 2016 and directly applicable starting May 2018, the GDPR severely affected private data usage consensus between users and enterprises. Its relevance, in this case, is given by the extraterritorial nature of the regulation. Put in simple terms, as long as a company deals with EU citizens, it deals with the GDPR. So, when EU citizens’ data are at stake, should Huawei, and many others, comply with GDPR or Chinese law? The answer is: technically both, probably preferring the motherland.

However, Huawei’s CEO Ren Zhengfei assured users (and, most importantly, investors) that he will oppose any such request by the Chinese government, which, on the other hand, stated that private companies will not be affected by intelligence investigations. No one gives, no one takes, data are safe. End of the story. Why is it still relevant, then?

Huawei’s plan of introducing 5G network equipment in the European Union has recently been threatened by the European Commission over the suspect that it may provide a backdoor between the network’s users’ data and the Chinese government. The company involvement in several indictments for sanction violations and money laundering by the U.S. did not help, and the Asian firm might now be forced to take a step back in its gold race. At the moment, further investigations are still in progress, but the strictness the EU is showing on the matter will definitely make a few knees buckle in Shenzhen.

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