How you can fall into the Chinese 'data trap' - TechCrunch

How you can fall into the Chinese data trap

The TechCrunch Global Affairs Project explores the growing connection between the tech sector and global politics.

Recent high - profile data breaches, such as Office of Personnel Management hacks, airline passenger lists and hotel guest data, have highlighted the vulnerability of both public and private systems to espionage. and cybercrime. What is less obvious is how a foreign opponent or competitor might target data that is less clearly relevant from a national security or espionage perspective. Today, public opinion data, such as the types of data that advertisers use to analyze consumer preferences, has become as strategically valuable as data on traditional weapons targets. As the definition of what is strategically valuable becomes increasingly unclear, the ability to identify and protect strategic data will become an increasingly complex and critical national security task.

This is especially true of nationalist state actors like China, who seek access to strategic data and try to use it to develop a machine against its enemies. Last month, MI6 chief Richard Moore described the danger of China's "data trap": "If you allow another country to access some very important data about your society," Moore said, "over time erosion will take over your sovereignty, you will no longer have control over that data. “And most governments are just beginning to grasp this threat.

As evidence to Congress last month, I argued that in order to defend democracy now, we need to better understand how specific data is collected and used by foreign enemies, especially China . And if we want to properly protect strategic data (and define and prioritize exactly which databases should be protected) in the future, we need to be creative about imagine how enemies might use them.

The use of the Chinese state for technology to enhance its authoritarian control is a topic that has received much attention in recent years. The targeting of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, backed by the aggressive and desperate use of surveillance technology, has been at the heart of this debate. So, understandably, when most people think about the dangers of China's "technical authority" going global, they think about how an aggressive investigation can go. globally. But the real problem is far more important and far less apparent due to the nature of digital and data-related technologies.

The Chinese party-state apparatus is already using big data collection to support its efforts to shape, regulate and control its global work environment. He understands that data that is relatively small when taken together can have great strategic value. Advertisers can use data on public sentiment to sell us things we did not know we needed. On the other hand, a hostile actor could use this data to inform propaganda attempts that remove democratic communication on digital platforms.

The U.S. and other countries have rightly targeted the threat from malicious cyber attacks - such as the OPM, Marriott and United Airlines incidents cited as the result of Chinese-based actors - but access is not necessary. data being imported from a malicious attack or change in the digital supply chain. It just needs an enemy like the state of China to take advantage of normal and legal business relations that result from downstream data sharing. These pathways are already evolving, visibly through mechanisms such as the recently enforced Data Security Law and other state security practices in China.

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Creating legal frameworks for access to data is just one way in which China is working to ensure access to domestic and global databases. Another way is to own the market. In a recent report, my co - authors and I found out for the tech fields surveyed that China had the highest number of patent filings filed compared to other countries but it did not. equivalent high impact feature.

This did not mean that Chinese companies were not failing at all. In China, the R&D incentive structure leads researchers to develop applications that have specific policy objectives - companies can own the market and update their products at a later date. Chinese leaders are well aware that their efforts to achieve global market leadership and set global tech standards will also allow for more overseas data and eventual integration across different platforms.

China is working on ways to marry unspecified data to produce potentially high-visibility results. After all, any data can be processed to generate value if placed in the right hands. For example, in my 2022 report, “Engineering Global Consent,” I covered the issue through a case study of Global Tone Communications Technology (GTCOM), a propaganda-controlled company that provides translation services through -translation device. According to its PR, GTCOM is also consolidating results in the supply chains of companies such as Huawei and AliCloud. However, GTCOM does not simply provide translation services. According to a company official, the data they collect through their business activity “provides[s] technical support and support for state security. ”

In addition, the Chinese government, assuming better technical capabilities in the future, will collect data that is not even useful. The same technologies that contribute to the solution of everyday problems and routine service provision can contribute to the political control of a Chinese party state at home and abroad.

To address this growing problem, we need to think differently about the "tech race" with China. The issue is not just about developing competing capabilities but the ability to think about future usage issues to know which databases are worth protecting. States and organizations need to develop ways to evaluate the value of their data and the potential value of data for parties that may have access to it now or in the future.

We have already mitigated this risk by assuming that authoritarian governments like China would weaken as the world became increasingly digitally interconnected. Democracies are not going to self-correct in response to the problems created by authoritative applications of technology. We need to reassess risk in a way that keeps up with the current landscape. Failure to do so could result in us falling into the "Chinese data trap."
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