Huawei gets US probe for suspected Iran naughtiness

Few will be surprised the US government is looking to weaken the already limited position of Huawei in the US, the emergence of a probe from the US Department of Justice is just another stepping stone in US/Chinese tensions.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the US Department of Justice has launched an investigation to see whether Huawei violated US sanctions against Iran, which will have numerous companies throughout the US as nervous as Huawei. The whole ZTE saga started with a similar investigation and escalated to a Denial Order effecting not only the firm’s ability to sell in the US, but also source products and services from the country. Suppliers to Huawei should be watching developments here very acutely.

Sources have stated the investigation follows administrative subpoenas on sanctions-related issues from both the Commerce Department and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, those a criminal investigation from the Department of Justice is on another level. Consequences could be very severe here.

This of course isn’t the first time Huawei has received attention from the US government. US Congressman Mike Conaway was looking to have both Huawei and ZTE banned in the US in January, political pressure on AT&T ended any prospect of selling devices through the carrier, while numerous committees and investigations have pointed the espionage finger at the vendor. It was only a matter of time before the tale escalated and higher offices were brought into the picture.

There have been no official confirmations of the investigation just yet, but is there really any need? The US government has had its eyes set on ridding both ZTE and Huawei from its shores for some time now, so it should come as little surprise to anyone. The US has been battling China for control of the digital economy, with the globalisation trend threatening Silicon Valley’s (as well as the US on the whole) dominant position at the top of the technology world.

The government has already effectively banned any public sector contracts with the giant, though this will be another step along the line. While we should expect a response from the Chinese government, the fact it hasn’t done anything drastic to date suggests it has an eye on the bigger picture. In banning ZTE from US shores, there has been substantial damage done to US companies. While it might sound like the US is winning the trade war, it is isolating its own economy from the global scene, with friendly-fire scattering everywhere. It does seem to be incredibly short-sighted, especially when you look at the dependence of some of the US’ largest companies dependence on Chinese manufacturing capabilities, most notably Apple.

It was only going to be a matter of time before such an investigation kicked off, and it will only be a matter of time before the Chinese government reacts as well. We’ve said this before, but it is worth reiterating, there will be no winners as a result of this trade war. Everyone involved will only be in a worse position than today if it continues to escalate.

ICO broadens data privacy investigation to 30 organizations

The ICO has announced it is investigating 30 organizations, including Facebook, to understand how personal data and analytics can impact political campaigning and influence elections.

Following the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, the ICO was sharp out of the blocks to kick-start an investigation in how personal data has been used in an unethical or potentially illegal manner. While we are usually quite critical about the sluggishness of the public sector, the ICO defied logic by securing a warrant before Facebook had the chance to conduct its own audit of the Cambridge Analytica data. The warrant was granted on Friday 23 March, before being investigators left the Cambridge Analytica offices at about 3am the next morning.

Having dug around the Cambridge Analytica filing cabinets, the ICO is taking the investigation up a step and broadening the number of companies underneath the microscope.

“As part of my investigation into the use of personal data and analytics by political campaigns, parties, social media companies and other commercial actors, the ICO is investigating 30 organisations, including Facebook,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham

“The ICO is looking at how data was collected from a third party app on Facebook and shared with Cambridge Analytica. We are also conducting a broader investigation into how social media platforms were used in political campaigning.”

As a result of the scandal, Facebook has brought in a host of changes to how and the amount of information developers can extract from user profiles. While this work has been noted by the ICO, Denham highlighted that only time would tell as to whether this would be deemed sufficient.

Elsewhere in the world other headaches are starting to appear for the social media giant. Alongside the ICO investigation and a grilling in the US, Australia has opened up its own probe into the saga. Australian Information Commissioner and acting Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk has opened up an investigation after Facebook confirmed the information of over 300,000 Australian users may have been acquired and used without authorisation.

Back to the UK, details on who the other 29 organizations are unknown for the moment, though this should hardly be a surprising move from the ICO. Scandals are opportunities for politically charged public servants to make a mark in the history books, and Denham has seemingly spotted a potentially catastrophic one here. Widening the net and potentially uncovering more nefarious behaviour is a chance for the Commissioner to make a name for herself. Expect this to be a political circus for months.

Apple faces US probe after phone slow downs

Apple has confirmed it has been contacted by US agencies over its admission it has been slowing down the performance of older devices.

According to Bloomberg, Apple has been contacted by the US Department of Justice and the SEC which are in the preliminary stages of investigating wrongdoing to any of the claims. This is very much a hushed investigation for the moment and it is not sure what sort of financial penalties, if any, the iLeader would face if found guilty.

It should also be noted that while Apple has confirmed it has been contacted by US agencies, it has not given any specifics. The US Department of Justice and the SEC have only been named by anonymous sources so far.

The question of whether Apple has been slowing down older devices is seemingly a moot point now, it did admit it after all, but what is less clear is whether these agencies believe such activities are justified. Apple might be able to squeeze out of this difficult corner should it be able to convince the unknown agency that the slowdown was for the benefit of user experience overall.

Over the Christmas period Apple came clean over the slow down. It was slowing down the performance of older device as a means of improving battery life and to avoid devices shutting down at random times. Such actions were only used to improve the experience of the device for the consumer and nothing to do with the fact that a clunky devices makes an expensive upgrade more of a necessity for the poor iCultists, who are constantly being bleed dry by the iBoss. Since Apple’s admission of the slow down, it has seemingly gone on the offensive.

“We did say what it was, but I don’t think a lot of people were paying attention,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said to ABC in January. “And maybe we should have been clearer.”

The slow down wasn’t Apple’s fault, but the fault of the user for not paying attention to announcements made by the iMafioso in some obscure communications back-channel. And we thought it was Apple screwing the user, when it is the world screwing Apple.

Such headlines will not be welcomed by Apple executives who are already facing potential legal action in France and Italy for the planned obsolescence claims. Reports also state sales of the iPhone X were lower than expected, though details will be clearer during the company’s earnings call later this week. Although it is too early to tell, entering the smart speaker market late with a device which is amazingly more expensive than anything else on the market, might compound the misery for Apple.