According to CNBC, U.S. Attorney General William Barr attacked U.S. tech firms like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Cisco calling some of them "pawns of Chinese influence." Barr also said certain tech firms and the Hollywood motion picture industry are "all too willing to collaborate with the Chinese Communist Party." The attorney general spoke today during a speech at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Library in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
U.S. Attorney General accuses America's tech firms of being pawns for China
During the speech, Barr stated that "The People’s Republic of China is now engaged in an economic blitzkrieg—an aggressive, orchestrated, whole-of-government campaign to seize the commanding heights of the global economy and to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower." He added, "All too often, for the sake of short-term profits, American companies have succumbed to that influence—even at the expense of freedom and openness in the United States." Barr specifically called out networking firm Cisco and blamed the company for helping the Communist Party build the "most sophisticated system for Internet surveillance and censorship."
Barr slammed Apple for using servers located in China to transfer part of its iCloud data. The top law enforcement official in the U.S. said that as a result, Apple has allowed the Chinese government to access emails, texts, and other personal data stored in the cloud. Barr also pointed out that Apple removed the news app Quartz from the App Store in China after the Chinese government complained about the app's coverage of protests in Hong Kong. And the attorney general also went off his prepared remarks to say how Apple wouldn't allow the U.S. government to unlock a pair of iPhones belonging to a terrorist named Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani; the latter killed three men at a Naval base in Pensacola, Florida last December.
Barr said, "For four and a half months we tried to get in without any help from Apple." He added that U.S. authorities were "ultimately able to get in through a fluke that we will not be able to reproduce in the future." Apple sent an email to CNBC in which it pointed out how it has a strong commitment to cybersecurity and includes "strong encryption across our devices and servers." As far as offering its devices to the Chinese is concerned, the U.S. based tech giant said, "Our products help our Chinese customers communicate, learn, express their creativity, and exercise their ingenuity. We believe in the critical importance of an open society in which information flows freely, and are convinced the best way we can continue to promote openness is to remain engaged even where we may disagree with a country’s laws."
Cisco sent an email to CNBC saying that it "does not supply equipment to China that is customized in any way to facilitate blocking of access or surveillance of users." Cisco went on to refute Barr's allegation saying that "The products we supply to China are the same we provide worldwide, and we comply fully with all export control rules applicable to China including those related to human rights."
Google declined to release a comment on Barr's statement. The company has not offered its search app in China since 2010. Yahoo also decided not to comment and a Microsoft spokesman had no immediate response to a request for comment.
Some of the same tech firms that Barr called out today are being investigated by the Justice Department, headed by Barr, for possible antitrust violations. For Apple, the concern is that by taking 30% of in-app payments and subscriptions run through the App Store, and by not allowing users to sideload apps from third-party app storefronts, the company is forcing iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch owners to pay more for apps. Google is accused of putting its own products ahead of competitors' products on Search results. It also is allegedly forcing manufacturers who want to install Google's version of Android on their phones to install Google Search and Chrome as their phones' default search engine and browser respectively.