Tech companies hoping to sell computers, smartphones, tablets, and software in China are facing some serious hurdles now that the country is demanding they build back doors into their products, comply with invasive audits, and hand over proprietary and secret source code. The Chinese government is justifying the move by saying it's necessary to ensure western countries aren't spying through technology, but it may also be a ploy to push those companies out in favor of in-country tech makers.
China demands back door into computers, apps
The rules are targeting companies selling to the Chinese banking industry, according to the New York Times. Groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have come out against China's new regulations, and President Barak Obama is expected to offer up some negative comments on the changes, too.
There is a little irony in the United States condemning China's actions considering the FBI and Department of Justice have both publicly pushed for back doors into our personal encrypted data, as did the White House. The reasoning in the United States is that law enforcement needs the access to conduct criminal investigations, where in China it's being called a cybersecurity move.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has come out in favor of government back doors into private information, too. Mr. Cameron said he wants to outlaw encrypted data that can't be read by government agencies.
China's new regulations have a bit of a if-they-can-so-can-we feel in that the United States already has rules in place that make it difficult for certain Chinese companies to sell their tech products in the country. Considering U.S. and European companies won't likely want to hand over trade secrets to the Chinese government, or build inherent security flaws into their products, it's likely some will decide to pull out of the country.
In essence, China can use its regulations to impose trade sanctions without any official declaration. The Chinese government can say foreign tech companies are leaving of their own free will and aren't being forced out of the market.
While politicians will no doubt have plenty rhetoric to toss around, regulations like these create a big security threat. The back doors China is demanding, and other countries are hoping for, are essentially available to anyone who wants to exploit them. If governments have access to a weakness in our tech gear and apps, hackers do, too.
Intentional security flaws in the name of protection are little more than a hollow promise. They open up exploits that law enforcement and criminals can both use and undermine personal privacy, neither of which turns out well for end users.
Considering how big the tech market is for companies wanting to sell in China, it'll be hard for outsiders to walk away from the potential business and profits. That means companies like Apple will have to get creative, either through negotiations with the Chinese government to work around the regulations, or by making special versions of their products and apps just for the country.
Regardless of any deals individual companies strike with government agencies, it's clear that countries like the US, UK, and China want access to our encrypted data. This is a fight they won't give up easily, which means in the end it's end users who will suffer as they give up more privacy and security.