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Without proof, is Huawei still a national security threat? – TechCrunch

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It’s Huawei vs. the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe and Japan.

It’s almost as if the world’s biggest surveillance superpowers don’t want Huawei cell tower and networking router equipment inside critical networks in their countries, amid concerns of the company’s links to the Chinese military.

Huawei, they say, could be spying for the Chinese — and that presents a national security risk.

But there’s a problem. Years of congressional hearings and “inconclusive” hardware inspections have presented a mixed picture on the threat that Huawei may, or may not pose. Despite the fact that the company’s founder and president is a former officer in China’s People’s Liberation Army and the company remains heavily funded by the Chinese government, there’s also no public, direct evidence that Huawei is using its equipment to spy on network traffic inside the U.S. or any other country. In any case, Huawei can’t prove a negative, so all it can do is allow governments to assess its devices — which has so far found some issues but nothing conclusive to tie it to Chinese espionage actors.

That’s the crux of the argument: nobody thinks Huawei is spying now. To get caught would be too dangerous. But nobody knows that it won’t spy in the future.

The worst case nightmare scenario is that telcos will snap up Huawei’s technology and install its equipment in every nook, cranny and corner of their networks. Why wouldn’t they? The technology is cheap, said to be reliable, and is necessary for the impending 5G expansion. Then years later China exploits a hidden vulnerability that either lets its hackers steal economic secrets from businesses.

At that point, it would be too late. The network operators can’t just rip out their routers and switches. The damage is done.

Telcos need Huawei as much as Huawei needs them. But the North American and European telcos are finding it increasingly difficult to navigate pressures from their governments, which treat them as critical national infrastructure and a constant national security concern.

The reality is that China is no more a national security threat than the U.S. is to China, which has its own burgeoning networking equipment business. Just as much as the U.S. and Canada might not want to use Huawei or ZTE equipment in their networks for fear of a surprise cyberattack ten years down the line, why should China, Russia, or any other “frenemy” state choose HPE or Cisco technologies?

Companies have an option: Is the enemy you know better than the one you don’t?

Ren Zhengfei, founder and chief executive officer of Huawei Technologies Co., attends an interview at the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China, on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Ren, the billionaire telecom mogul, broke years of public silence to dismiss U.S. accusations the telecoms giant helps Beijing spy on Western governments and to praise Donald Trump for his tax cuts. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. government has persisted across administrations with its fiery rhetoric over Huawei’s links to the Chinese government, since a House Intelligence Committee report in 2012 pushed for a domestic ban on equipment built by Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese electronics maker, and even warning against using their consumer phones. Noticeably absent from the House’s report was any specific proof of Chinese spying.

Core to the panel’s claim that “a router that turns on in the middle of the night, starts sending back large data packs, and it happens to be sent back to China,” said former congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI). Huawei, which has always denied the claims, has long called for evidence. Only this week, the U.S. said it doesn’t need to show proof, citing the company’s ability to be “leveraged by the Chinese government.”

The report contained claims of bribery and corruption, copyright infringement and more, but there was no smoking gun that proved that the company was spying — only that it could at the request of Beijing.

China’s authoritarian rule notwithstanding, the country says that it doesn’t have a single law that can compel a company to spy on its behalf or put backdoors in its products. Westerners are rightfully skeptical: in China, the government doesn’t need a law to say it can or can’t do something.

Yet ironically, it’s the U.S. and the U.K. — and more recently Australia — that have laws in place that can in fact compel a company to turn over data, or force a company to install backdoors. After the Edward Snowden disclosures that revealed the scope of U.S. surveillance, China retaliated by dropping U.S. technology from its networks and systems. That was no bother for China; it has its own booming tech industry, and just started using its own homegrown equipment instead.

Other countries aren’t so lucky, and more often than not are stuck between buying their tech from the two spying giants.

Western nations would rather trust U.S. technology with its powerful surveillance laws, while the rest of the world either trusts Chinese technology or simply doesn’t care.

Any technology can be a national security risk. It’s less selecting the right gear, and more picking your poison.

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Google Search on mobile is about to get a big visual redesign

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Google is about to roll out a redesigned Search on mobile, the company said in a blog post today, explaining the adjustments users can expect. Google describes the updated UI as a ‘major visual redesign,’ one that is intended to simplify things for users, bringing ‘information into focus,’ improving the readability of text, and more.

First things first, Google says the redesigned Search interface on mobile makes it easier for users to focus on the content, reducing some of the clutter from design elements. Beyond that, the redesign is also intended to make it easier for users to read content as they browse.

The text has been made bolder and larger, the result of which is easier scanning across search results for the content you want. Google has also added more of its own font into the mix, the one you see on Gmail and Android devices.

“Bringing consistency to when and how we use fonts in Search was important, too, which also helps people parse information more efficiently,” explained Google’s Aileen Cheng, who led the redesign. Beyond that, Google’s redesign uses color to highlight important things in search, emphasizing content first with colors used ‘more intentionally’ in places to guide the user’s eyes.

Shadow use has been minimized and results now span edge-to-edge, ultimately providing more ‘visual space,’ according to Aileen. Rounding it all out is the use of roundness in new places, something that better reflects the same roundness we see in the Google logo.

Google says the updated design will roll out on Search for mobile in coming days.

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Pinterest’s new AR feature lets you try on virtual eyeshadow

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Shopping online is the primary way people get most of the items they want or need, but there are some downsides: you can’t try on clothes to make sure they’ll fit right and it’s not easy to determine whether a particular makeup color will look good on you. Pinterest has introduced another feature that addresses the latter problem, one that lets you virtually try-on eye shadow before buying it.

The feature is called ‘AR Try on,’ and it is now available for eyeshadows from a few brands: NYX Cosmetics, Urban Decay, Lancome, and YSL. Eyeshadow products listed on Pinterest that are included in this feature will show a small ‘Try on’ button in the bottom right corner of the image, as well as a camera icon.

Tapping this will pull up your phone’s camera in the app, where you’ll be able to scroll through different eyeshadow color options and see them realistically overlaid on your eyelids. The feature is powered by Pinterest’s Lens feature and is available on both iOS and Android.

The platform includes options for filtering the results to specific brands, price ranges, and color, as well as seeing similar products and saving items to a board. The new feature joins Pinterest’s Try on feature for lipstick, which works in the same way and currently includes more than 4,000 lipstick shades.

Users who decide to purchase a product they try on will be directed to the retailer’s website for the transaction, Pinterest notes. This is the latest expansion of the company’s augmented reality features, the most notable being its Lens tool. With this, users can point their phone’s camera at an object, then browse through results featuring similar content.

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If Apple lets me trash this dongle I’ll be overjoyed

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I’m a Mac user, and a macOS fan, and I like Apple’s industrial design, but the chatter of a return of the SD card slot to upcoming MacBook Pro laptops has me muttering a silent prayer of thanks. It feels like we’ve been languishing in dongle hell for many years now, and while Apple wasn’t alone in betting on a tech future dominated by a single port, it’s certainly been the most stubborn about that.

For a connector type absent from its notebooks for about five years at this point, the fact that Apple took away the SD card slot still rankles so many users is impressive. When the fourth generation MacBook Pro was announced in 2016, it wasn’t only the memory card reader that Apple removed, however.

Gone, in fact, was every port beyond the 3.5mm headphone jack. In their place, users got either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, which doubled as USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 and DisplayPort 1.2 connectors.

It was an aggressive move, that spoke of Apple’s commitment to the USB Type-C future, but it also arguably became overshadowed by other changes the MacBook Pro introduced. The Touch Bar – the company’s implementation of a touchscreen interface – proved more controversial still, as did the butterfly keyboard. One of those issues has been settled, with the new Magic Keyboard arriving in late 2019 on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, but if the rumors are to be believed it’ll likely be this year that the Touch Bar and USB-C get their comeuppance.

It seems fair to say that the USB-C transition hasn’t gone entirely as many expected it would. When Thunderbolt 3 adopted the same USB Type-C connector, it seemed reasonable to assume that peripherals would go the same way. Certainly, there are more USB Type-C compatible devices and accessories out there than, say, Thunderbolt 2 managed to get onboard.

At the same time, though, it’s also no exaggeration to say that the USB situation is beyond confusing. Different versions provide different speeds and capabilities despite all looking, outwardly, the same. You might not notice that if you’re simple plugging in a thumb-drive or a scanner, but if you’re trying to troubleshoot why your monitor isn’t working – or delivering the maximum resolution it’s meant to be capable of – then that’s a whole other story.

Some things, meanwhile, just haven’t made that transition, and look unlike to ever do so. We’re seeing more new cameras with USB-C connectors now, for example, but that hasn’t stopped content creators wanting to simply pull out an SD card and slot it into the side of their notebook. The USB-C to SD Card Reader Apple still sells for $39 has been a permanent occupant of my work kit since I switched to the 12-inch Retina MacBook all those years ago, and it’s kept me company since then.

Honestly, out of the things that Apple has (in many cases rightly) been lambasted for in Macs over the last few years, the removal of the SD card slot has had the most impact on my life. I don’t hate the Touch Bar, especially since I loaded it up with some of my most commonly-used Automator shortcuts, and I was one of the oddball people who actually enjoyed typing on the butterfly keyboard. Having to always double-check I have the SD card adapter – and canvassing the room to see if someone has one with them, on the few times I forgot it – has been a chore for so long, it’s basically become muscle-memory.

I doubt I’m alone in that and, while I may not be a programming power-user, or someone making complex 3D graphics, I don’t think my use-case when it comes to content creation fails to qualify as the “professional” that the Pro in MacBook Pro is meant to refer to. The big experiment of doing away with ports has had long enough to run, and the results sure seem to indicate that no, you can’t comfortably and seamlessly replace an SD card reader with a USB-C port.

I can’t help but feel that there’s a sense of new liberation among Apple’s Mac team as it heads into 2021. Jony Ive – a brilliant designer but also an uncompromising one, and someone who cast a significant shadow over Apple’s hardware decisions – is gone, and the transition to Apple Silicon opens the door for many of the old-normals to be cast out in favor of new thinking. If that means getting back some familiar ports, I’m 100-percent for it.

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