Reverse engineering is when a company takes apart a product made by a rival to discover how the product is made. This is not necessarily illegal, depending on the country and the process involved. However, a report published today by The Information says that Apple and some of its suppliers are upset with the methods used by Huawei to obtain some of the secrets used by Apple in its products.
Apple Watch. So last November, a Huawei engineer made an appointment to visit one of the firms that supplies parts for the heart rate monitor on the Apple Watch. The meeting was made on the pretense that Huawei was going to give the supplier a huge contract. Instead, the Huawei engineer pestered his host with questions about the Apple Watch, which the supplier refused to answer. An executive of the supplier said, "They were trying their luck, but we wouldn’t tell them anything."As an example, the heart rate monitor on Huawei's smartwatch was not considered by its users to be up to the same standards of the same feature on the
The story is disturbingly similar to events that took place back in 2016 when Huawei wanted to copy a component devised by Apple that made the hinge on the MacBook Pro thinner, but still allowed the display on the device to attach to the logic board. Huawei allegedly went to a number of different suppliers that had the ability to knock off the part. With the schematics in hand, Huawei approached the companies and was turned down; the suppliers knew that the component was designed by Apple and refused to produce it. Still, Huawei was able to find a manufacturer to make it, and it was used in the Huawei Mate Book Pro.
Huawei was found guilty of stealing tech secrets from T-Mobile
Back in 2014, T-Mobile filed a civil suit against Huawei, claiming that the company stole technology it devised for "Tappy," a phone-testing robot. T-Mobile alleged that not only did a Huawei engineer visiting the facility illegally snap pictures of "Tappy," another Huawei employee actually stole parts of the robot's tips and returned to China with the parts in his bag. Sounding quite similar to the Apple Watch story, Huawei later admitted that its robot was not as good as T-Mobile's, leading to the technology theft. The U.S. Justice Deopartment recently issued a criminal indictment against the company over the same incident.
Huawei also likes to go after former Apple supply chain employees and arrange job interviews with them. During the interviews, the ex-employees are peppered with questions about Apple's upcoming products and technology. One former Apple employee who was subjected to this treatment said, "It was clear they were more interested in trying to learn about Apple than they were in hiring me." And line workers at contract manufacturer Foxconn, the company that assembles devices for Apple and other companies, have reportedly been approached by Huawei personnel seeking some sort of inside edge. Considering that these workers are not highly paid and are often overworked, they could be easily susceptible to revealing what they know in return for some cash.
Of course Apple, its suppliers and assembly firms have security in place. But this isn't always enough. Take the meeting that Huawei setup with the Apple Watch heart rate monitor supplier. Since Huawei is a huge company, these companies can't turn down prospective business from them.
The company is considered a national security threat in the U.S.
Huawei is also accused by U.S. lawmakers of using its networking equipment and phones to gather information and pass it along to the Chinese government. President Trump is expected to sign an order banning the use of Chinese networking gear by U.S. carriers. Back in 2012, Congress declared Huawei and ZTE to be national security threats, a statement that has been repeated often since then.
Of course, Huawei denies that it tries to obtain confidential information from its competitors. T-Mobile's experience with "Tappy" says otherwise. Even through all of this talk about Huawei products spying on consumers and companies, the firm is going all out to become the world's biggest smartphone company by the end of the year. It already is the largest provider of networking equipment in the world.