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Huawei employees worked with China’s military on tech research projects

Published Jun 27th, 2019 9:26AM EDT

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A report that Huawei employees worked on research projects alongside Chinese military personnel for at least 10 years can’t be good news for Huawei right now. The company’s ability to conduct business has been seriously hindered this year, as Trump’s recent ban prevents the company from importing any US technology, whether it’s chips from Intel and Qualcomm or the Android operating system made by Google. At the core of the matter is the USA’s worry that Huawei is too close to the Chinese government and that its equipment can be used to spy on Western states and companies. Huawei has been trying for the past year to make it clear that its devices and technologies are secure and that it doesn’t spy on behalf of the Chinese government, so this latest revelation is a setback, to say the least.

While performing a search of an online database that’s used in part by professors to discover plagiarism among college students, Bloomberg discovered studies dating back to 2006 that proved Huawei employees penned research papers alongside officials from the People’s Liberation Army of China.

Among the research projects Bloomberg found, there’s a technology that can extract and classify emotions from online video comments, as well as an initiative to improve the collection and analysis of satellite images and geographical coordinates. While the Huawei employees mentioned their employer in those papers, there’s no clear link between Huawei, the company, and the PLA. The report also notes that Huawei employees may not have notified the company about working with third parties on any research parties, or could have notified Huawei only after the studies were published. Huawei employs more than 180,000 people. However, the fact that people from the two bodies have been working together for years won’t look good to the US or its allies.

Huawei denied that it’s working in any official capacity with the PLA.

“Huawei is not aware of its employees publishing research papers in their individual capacity,” spokesman Glenn Schloss said. “Huawei does not have any R&D collaboration or partnerships with the PLA-affiliated institutions. Huawei only develops and produces communications products that conform to civil standards worldwide, and does not customize R&D products for the military.”

It’s not uncommon for tech companies to work with the military for any country. Most recently, some Google employees protested the company’s work with the US armed forces on a project that involved using AI to analyze data from drone surveillance systems, and Google ultimately dropped out of a race to ink a $10 billion Pentagon contract. Other tech giants, including Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, have also been vying for the JEDI cloud infrastructure contract.

But, again, it’s Huawei that had to defend itself against spying accusations coming from various high-ranking US intelligence officials in the past few years.

Bloomberg’s report makes it clear that it found only a few instances where cooperation between Huawei employees and PLA members can be proven. It’s unclear whether any other studies would establish a more significant Huawei involvement with the PLA. Needless to say, any research projects that are classified would not even show up in the databases the publication searched.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.