The lobbying growth demonstrates the strained relationship between Chinese tech giants and the Biden administration.
Biden’s China tech strategy still appears to be in the works six months after his inauguration, China experts told The Technology 202.
“I think they’re still in the process of forming a master narrative or policy,” said Graham Webster, editor in chief of the Stanford-New America DigiChina Project at the Stanford University Cyber Policy Center. “What we’ve seen so far has been mostly continuity with the Trump administration, which, to be honest, had a certain amount of continuity with the Obama administration.”
The Biden administration has made some efforts to create a “slightly less ad hoc, chaotic mode” than the Trump administration’s approach, he added.
But the Biden administration has continued to put pressure on Huawei, urging U.S. allies like the United Arab Emirates to remove Huawei equipment from their networks and restricting the company’s suppliers by tightening export licenses on components — like chips and batteries — for use in Huawei’s 5G devices. In June, the administration broadened a Trump administration ban on U.S. investment in Huawei, accusing the company of having links to China’s military and selling surveillance technology. The restrictions on the company, which denied the allegations in the order, are set to go into effect on Aug. 2.
U.S. regulators, too, are still putting the heat on Huawei.
Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to finalize $1.9 billion for reimbursing carriers that remove Huawei and other Chinese equipment from their networks, arguing that using Huawei products in U.S. infrastructure leaves networks vulnerable and poses a national security risk because of the company’s ties to Beijing.
“We will evaluate network after network, base station after base station, and router after router until we have rooted out equipment that could undermine our national security,” acting FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement at the time. (Huawei blasted the move as an “unrealistic attempt to fix what isn’t broken.”)
The company has continued to make public appeals to the Biden administration in recent months. It has also gone on a hiring spree, bringing on four new lobbying firms since June 1. It spent $1 million on lobbying in the second quarter of 2021, up from $180,000 in the previous quarter.
Beyond Huawei, Chinese apps are also seeing continued pressure.
Last month, the Biden administration set up a new process to scrutinize whether apps controlled by foreign adversaries pose security risks. The administration also revoked Trump administration executive orders seeking to ban ByteDance’s TikTok and Tencent’s WeChat from U.S. app stores.
Rather than targeting individual companies, the Biden administration appears to be developing a more comprehensive focus on tech issues with China, said Adam Segal, the director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Still, each company will have to pacify specific concerns, according to Stanford’s Webster. For platforms like TikTok, this includes questions of how much control apps can have over content posted to them and how much access Chinese parent companies should have to U.S. user data, he said.
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has also surged its lobbying, more than doubling its first-quarter spending to $1.8 million in the second quarter of the year, as it faces issues like proposed legislation banning federal employees from downloading the video-sharing app on government devices.
Chinese Internet companies are also facing scrutiny by Beijing.
The country’s top Internet regulator earlier this month ordered ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, which debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in June, to be banned on Chinese app stores amid a cybersecurity review, my colleagues reported.
The move has implications in the United States, where Didi’s stock has fallen 25 percent since its debut. And ByteDance indefinitely postponed its plans to go public in the wake of regulatory warnings, the Wall Street Journal reported. TikTok did not respond to a request for comment from The Technology 202.
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WhatsApp’s CEO says government officials who are U.S. allies were targeted by NSO spyware.
Following Pegasus Project reporting by The Washington Post and 16 media partners, WhatsApp head Will Cathcart said officials were targeted in a 2019 hack of WhatsApp using NSO’s spyware that is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.
Cathcart told the Guardian’s Stephanie Kirchgaessner that the event “matches what we saw in the attack we defeated two years ago.” That includes the targeting of people “who had no business being spied on in any shape or form,” he said. The Pegasus Project found multiple instances in which NSO spyware was used to target journalists and human rights activists.
NSO Group said that Cathcart was “deliberately mistaken and misleading” and that “NSO is not privy to the data of its customers” and “has no access to their systems.”
European regulators are set to open an investigation into Facebook’s acquisition of Kustomer.
The European Commission will begin an in-depth investigation into the acquisition after it finishes its preliminary look at the deal for the customer-service software company, Reuters’s Foo Yun Chee reports. The deal is also facing antitrust scrutiny in Washington, where the Federal Trade Commission is reportedly investigating the acquisition.
Facebook announced the purchase in November. The company referred to a June statement that said the deal was pro-competition and would bring more innovation to the industry. The European Commission declined to comment.
Google contractors in Pittsburgh reached a tentative agreement to unionize.
About 65 employees would be covered by the tentative contract, the Verge’s Kim Lyons reports.
The unionization process was tumultuous. The National Labor Relations Board accused HCL, the Google contractor, of violating labor rights of employees who sought to unionize. The company called the allegations “without merit.”
“Throughout this process, HCL has been actively engaged in meaningful and fair discussions with the USW in good faith,” an HCL spokesperson said. “We have been steadfast in our commitment to respect our employees’ right to pursue unionization should they choose to do so.” Google did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.
Rant and rave
Readers have puzzled over Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s interview with journalist Casey Newton about his vision for the company to bring a “metaverse” to life. Writer Doug Thompson:
Fortune’s Robert Hackett:
Recode’s Shirin Ghaffary:
- Gideon Lett has joined BSA | The Software Alliance as its chief growth officer. Lett previously worked as a senior adviser for fair tech at Access Partnership.