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The Dangerous Liaisons Of Big Tech Companies

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Microsoft

I previously wrote about the nebulous relations of big techs with the American spy agencies, which, by itself, would be very worrisome. These agencies treat citizens as if they were criminals, violating everyone's privacy, listening to conversations, keeping pictures, archiving personal data, which, normally, would only be acceptable with warrants issued by judges. But no, they act clandestinely and outside of the law(s). This alone would be very bad. But research for writing is an interesting activity, as Forrest Gump would say, when you open a box of chocolates, you never know what you will find. And, research is like that, you start researching a subject, and, how the thing ends, you never know. Imagine my surprise when I found out that American companies, big tech companies, are involved with the Chinese government? Yes, and not that they are spying on the Chinese government. Far from it. But they are helping to perpetrate human rights abuses. Exactly the same government that is openly condemned for human rights abuses, is a first class customer of several US tech companies.

[...]

Oracle has always been close to the U.S. government, working with the CIA as one of its first customers, so much so that Oracle's work with the government (Safra Catz, Oracle's CEO, was in the Trump administration's transition cabinet in 2016) helped it and Walmart outmaneuver its rivals in an attempt to control U.S. operations for Chinese-owned social media company TikTok last year, after the Trump administration ordered TikTok to find a U.S. buyer for its American operations. The proposed deal, under challenge in court, was motivated by concerns that TikTok's Beijing-based parent company could pass on sensitive user data to Chinese authorities. But in a strange twist, the documents show that Oracle marketed the use of its software to those same authorities in an extreme example of putting profit above human rights.

[...]

This censorship and surveillance scheme was discovered by Jeffrey Knockel, a 27-year-old graduate student (at the time) at the University of New Mexico, who decoded and published a list of the words that cause Skype to block messages or forward them to Chinese servers.

In 2019, it came to light that Microsoft has been working with a military-run Chinese university on artificial intelligence research that could be used for surveillance and censorship, a revelation that has sparked outrage from China's opponents on Capitol Hill.

Three papers, published between March and November last year, were co-written by academics at Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing and researchers affiliated with China's National University of Defense Technology, which is controlled by China's top military body, the Central Military Commission.

One of the papers described a new AI method for recreating detailed environmental maps by analyzing human faces, which experts say could have clear applications for surveillance and censorship.

The paper acknowledges that the system provides a better understanding of the surrounding environment "not seen by the camera," which could have a "variety of computer vision applications."

Samm Sacks, a senior fellow at think-tank New America and an expert on China technology policy, said the documents raised "red flags because of the nature of the technology, the author's affiliations, combined with what we know about how this technology is being deployed in China right now."

"The [Chinese] government is using these technologies to build surveillance systems and to detain minorities [in Xinjiang]," Ms. Sacks added.

The U.S. government is debating whether research collaborations, particularly in sensitive areas such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality, should be subject to stricter export controls.

Microsoft and Huawei, a happy marriage

President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning Huawei products in American homes. Huawei not only works closely with the Chinese government to monitor citizens through technology and AI, but is also under investigation for working to subvert the US-Iran nuclear weapons agreement. Huawei is blacklisted on the U.S. Department of Commerce's Export Administration Regulatory Entities List.

Read more

Also: If You Thought Google's Evilness Was Limited To The Internet, You'd Be Wrong

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