WSJ exposé reveals U.S hypocrisy of 'clean networks' and 'apps'
Tom Fowdy
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, August. 5, 2020. /AP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, August. 5, 2020. /AP

Editor's note: Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain, and the U.S.The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On Friday an exposé from the Wall Street Journal revealed that the United States government had utilized a contractor to embed spyware in over 500 apps, giving them the capability to track hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The company, known as Anomaly Six LLC, has ties to U.S. intelligence and defense organizations and, according to the report, provides global location data "to branches of the U.S. government and private-sector clients." The story also noted that numerous agencies of U.S. government had concluded that the procurement of such private data was lawful, noting that: "According to interviews with numerous people in the industry, there is little regulation in the U.S. about the buying and selling of location data."

This revelation comes at a staggering point in time, just days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intensified his assault on China-based communications, setting out what he described as a "clean" initiative and ironically, pledging to protect American personal data. The speech, laying the ground for Trump's attacks on WeChat and TikTok, has pledged to purge Chinese telecommunications networks from the United States, applications from app stores and mobile devices and so on. It has come amid an all-embracing paranoia which has sought to relentlessly portray Chinese technology as a threat to national security, often lacking evidence or reason.

This given story, however, shows the abject hypocrisy that is on display on behalf of Washington at large. These so-called concerns for "American data" are not sincere and are based solely upon political opportunism. Whilst there has already been insight from WikiLeaks as to how U.S technology firms are co-opted, as set out in my piece "The Five Eyed Monster Has Its Sights on TikTok," into surveillance on behalf of the U.S National Security Agency, the other side of the coin is that the private online data of individuals all around the world is effectively and rampantly commercialized by U.S. tech for both profit and political gain. There are no "clean networks" or "clean applications"; it's a total sham.

Screenshot of the WSJ article.

Screenshot of the WSJ article.

In the modern world of mass communications and social media, what the public often fail to recognize is that these services do not operate solely for the personal convenience of these people, but their personal data, revealing every aspect of their lives and preferences, is a commercial product for big technology. Google for one is not so much a search engine, as it is a depository for every benign thought, question, interest and lifestyle preference of its users. Out of this, there is money to be made. The huge revenue which they make out of their advertising is not random, but tailored upon the utilization of this information and then sold to third parties, which have included Facebook and other social media firms, or of course pushed upward to the U.S. government through its PRISM and ECHELON programs.

In this context, the news that Anomaly Six LLC is secretly infiltrating applications and then harvesting data on individuals, selling it as a product to U.S. intelligence, defense and commercial parties, is hardly surprising news even if it is also disturbing. Despite all the U.S. criticism geared toward Huawei, TikTok and more (often never proven by evidence), it reveals an unsettling premise that harvesting the data of people all over the world for the procurement of authorities is a legitimate and legal business, and that this is being done discretely without the consent or knowledge of its users. The applications which it is involved in are extensive in number, and not named in the initial report. How can the U.S. government feasibly talk about "clean networks" and "clean applications" when this is going on?

Such news demonstrates firmly how shallow, opportunistic and hypocritical such talk of "data protection" really is. The U.S. government is doing everything it happens to accuse China of, and more. It is injecting fear into the general public of Chinese applications and technology, linking them to espionage and data harvesting, vowing to protect people when itself is doing such on a global scale and has endeavored, if it were not for journalistic leaks, to keep this from public knowledge.

Individual data is a big and lucrative business for American companies, which has been milked to maximum benefit on behalf of the government. As a result, in the midst of this revelation it is fair to argue decisively that Pompeo's claims for so called "clean networks" and "clean applications" is a total sham, a snake oil solution which distracts and misleads the public from a country whereby, as an astounding irony, the state and private sectors are working in tandem to harvest, profit from and politicize people's data on multiple fronts in a way which is horrifyingly, perfectly legal.

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