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Is innovation as big a challenge as security?

Ongoing concerns over security have focused on Huawei, but should worries over security extend to the wider supply chain and our dependence on Chinese technology?

The arguments over allowing Huawei communications network equipment to be used in the roll-out of networks around the world has raised some interesting questions.

While a recent report from the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre said that the risk from using telecoms equipment supplied by Huawei was ‘manageable’ another report, from the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), said it would be "naive" and "irresponsible" to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to access the UK's telecommunications system.

It’s certainly a tough call for policymakers especially as many security analysts have described and detected espionage, malware, and theft by manufacturers that are affiliated with the Chinese government - Huawei is just one company in what is a very large value chain with many points that could be compromised.

What about the host of components that make up the internet and are made by firms that are affiliated with the Chinese government and which are used extensively to connect our homes, offices, and businesses?

Many of the apps we use to connect to the internet are made in China and operate on Chinese made mobile phones.

Concerns have been expressed, and reports published, on the collection and processing of data by the likes of Google and Facebook, but much of the data that is processed and stored is done so using Chinese data centres.

Increasingly, China drives technological innovation. Take 5G for example, the bulk of papers associated with 5G technologies are published by Chinese scholars from Chinese universities, not Americans or Europeans.

Many of the patents being filed in communications technologies in the EU, are not necessarily filed by Europeans. Huawei, for example, is responsible for most of the patents in this category.

In 2008, 2693 patents were filed in Europe within the telecommunications and connectivity categories. Of these, just 116 were filed by Chinese firms. By 2017 China accounted for 1478 of the 3717 patents granted – that’s a 12-fold increase.

Our concerns over security require much greater insight when it comes to products and services, especially when it comes to managing risk and security.

Smartphones and GPS applications can certainly be abused and we simply don’t know how the data being generated is being collected, stored and used – we need much greater transparency.

But here’s the problem. Companies in the West will soon not be able to produce the next generation of technology without Chinese patents and input.

A lack of innovation and growing dependence on Chinese technology is, perhaps, as big a concern as that of security.

Author
Neil Tyler

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