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Following NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations on government spying, global consumers have been rightfully suspicious about snooper-friendly American technology.
This general attitude of global suspicion and wariness has cost some technology companies dearly, and appears to be leading to damage control in the form of serious technological reforms and NSA-proofing that government agents are none too happy about.
Here’s what you should know about suspicious US technology, and how companies are attempting to win back the trust of international consumers.
What technology are global consumers wary of?
A better question may be, what aren’t they wary of?
Leaks and admissions have proven that the scope of the U.S. government’s spying is extensive, and in many cases enabled by the country’s most prominent technology behemoths, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype, Facebook and plenty of others.
Some of the most widely used technology products are connected to these companies. The privacy worries expressed by global consumers have big U.S. tech companies concerned that their corporate reputation and earnings may be at risk.
But it’s not just the data that’s in question — it’s the physical products themselves, which have been accused of being implanted with NSA-friendly back door applications. Evidence shows that in more cases than you’d hope, these fears may be justified.
According to documents obtained by Der Spiegel, the NSA has tampered with American-made electronic equipment including servers, routers, and other network devices, essentially seeding surveillance malware that can be activated remotely.
The NSA’s “Toolbox,” as it’s called by some, intercepts shipments to inject software onto Apple’s iPhones and the equipment of other companies including Cisco, Dell, Juniper Networks, Maxtor, Seagate, Samsung, Huawei, and Western Digital.
There’s no proof or indication, however, that the companies consented to this kind of bugging. Even so, the NSA’s extensive hardware and software surveillance capabilities make it crystal clear: technology exported to international users is just as vulnerable to prying eyes and spies as anything else.
Reaction and counter-reaction
International governments and consumers, unsurprisingly, ranged in reaction from fear to outrage to this apparent security breach.
One extreme yet telling example of foreign suspicions is this: in Germany and Russia, government officials have observed a shift away from digital technology through the re-adoption of typewriters and traditional snail mail.
Meanwhile, in China, Apple products have been called a “threat to national security.”
Apple rejected this assertion, but did not take the reaction itself lightly: the iPhone 6, to the FBI’s chagrin, is completely NSA-proof and encrypted, immune not only to surveillance, but court orders. Officials call it the first of a “post-Snowden” class of technology that can skirt all surveillance — even if it’s legal. Officials fear this will aid actual criminals.
According to the NYTimes, this less about the companies’ moral standing in regards to surveillance, but more of a marketplace survival method that is essential to keep consumers assured that their data is safe.
Meanwhile, officials say other tech companies will by following their lead by spending billions of dollars on encryption technology, or else suffer the loss of billions of dollars worth of international clients.