The Chinese Communist Party is, objectively speaking, the most sophisticated authoritative regime in world history.
Decades of foreign investment, acceptance of exports, and looking the other way when the CCP is caught stealing tech or violating human rights have built the country up into the monster that it is today 1.
State officials run large scale analyses on surveillance data to train the confidential censorship algorithms that power the Chinese internet 2.
The CCP relies on measures like the Great Firewall to maintain order and promote stability (party speak).
Consequently, when a Chinese citizen logs into Wechat on a Huawei device 3 they know better than to expect grand notions like digital privacy.
The dramatic landscape in Asia lets the western world adopt a position of moral authority.
When an American runs Windows software on Intel hardware, they’re somehow convinced that their affairs are completely secure.
My country would NEVER backdoor my machine. WE promote democracy. OUR institutions are open. The fourth amendment protects ME against yada yada yada…
Of course, thanks to Ed Snowden, we have plenty of examples to the contrary 4. We know for instance that the state department is willing and able to pressure businesses into building surveillance into their solutions. We also know that the state is willing to manipulate standards and promote weak crypto. 5 When confronted, state officials seem to be perfectly content with lying to the public6. This makes the western situation much more ambiguous for those of us concerned with digital privacy.
Vendors market their products with phrases like “End to End Encryption” but the public has no way to confirm what often amounts to an empty promise.
We rely on whistleblowers to shed light on the extent to which the services we use are instead using us.
Ultimately, this creates a situation where one must assume that digital tools are flawed by default (verify, don’t trust).
Incentive structures are a good heuristic for discerning who stands to gain the most out of flawed tech. Ad-based business models invariably create perverse incentives.
For a good overview of the history of Chinese foreign relations, see Michael Pillsbury’s “The Hundred Year Marathon”↩︎