If there’s been one thing that stood out for the tech world in 2019, it would be how technology was caught up in politics. Most famously, how the United States of America directly interfered with the sales of product from a single company. That product is Huawei’s Mate 30 series of smartphones, in case you haven’t heard.
The US government claims that Huawei has ties with the Chinese government, and so any equipment it produces can potentially have secret backdoors that would allow for spying. Thus, Huawei – one of the world’s largest telecommunications equipment providers – has been placed on the Entity List, which means the company will need special licences to access products and services from US suppliers like Google.
As such, the Mate 30 Pro is shipping without Google Mobile Services (GMS). So even though it’s running the latest version of Android – Android 10 Open Source – many don’t consider it to be an “Android” device. Never mind the fact that you can still access Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Drive through a browser just like a PC. The worry is that other apps which draw on aspects of GMS will stop working.
To this date, many governments are still on the fence as to whether Huawei actually poses a threat. No evidence has yet been provided to substantiate US government claims either, so one can’t help but wonder if Google was too quick to comply. Given the multitude of stories about smart devices eavesdropping on their owners over the years, you might argue that there’s stronger evidence of Google’s devices (intentionally or not) having actually done what Huawei’s accused of. One can’t help but wonder: is the issue really more political?
Similarly, Twitter and Facebook have hit headlines for their involvement in politics. They stand on opposite sides of the fence about political ads and messaging on their networks. Facebook said that it will no longer fact-check political ads, while Twitter is preparing to stop ads that 1. Refer to an election or a candidate, or 2. Advocate for or against legislative issues of national importance (such as: climate change, healthcare, immigration, national security, taxes).
Both approaches raise their own set of questions. How can Facebook simply wash their hands of all responsibility when mistruths fly come election time? For Twitter, just how much effect can its ban really make, when most of the political messaging comes from the politicians’ tweets rather than actual advertising?
This is a reflection of how important technolocay and social media have become as a medium for politics.
Just look at what’s happening in Hong Kong now, and before that, the Occupy Wall Street movement. Getting that many people to gather at the same place and the same time doesn’t happen without the connectivity of social media. It’s unquestionable that people in politics use technology to their advantage. The question is, will the tech world start using politics to theirs?
What if Google turned the tables and insisted that the US government provide proof of actual tampering or face a complete withdrawal of Google services instead? After all, given the global nature of Google’s business, there’s no real need to be physically based in a particular country.
Can a company be powerful enough to hold sway over a government and its laws?
"It’s unquestionable that people in politics use technology to their advantage. The question is, will the tech world start using politics to theirs?"