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America’s Chinese Tech Ban Didn’t Stick



In 2019, the White House declared that phone and internet equipment from Chinese technology companies should be ripped from every corner of the U.S. because it posed an unacceptable risk of snooping or sabotage by the Chinese government.

More than three years later, most of that equipment remains.

Today I’m going to look at how the U.S. has handled the equipment from two Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE. I’ll explore what this can tell us about America’s ability to effectively deal with concerns about other Chinese technology, such as apps like TikTok, and its efforts to become more self-sufficient in computer chip manufacturing and design.

Technology will no longer be an American near-monopoly, as it has been for the past half-century, and the U.S. needs to figure out and execute plans to help it benefit from global technology developments while preserving America’s safety and innovation. But the story of Chinese equipment shows we have a long way to go.

Some U.S. officials believe that the continued use of gear from Huawei and ZTE is a grave threat to America’s national security. Other policy experts that I’ve spoken to say that it presents a negligible risk and that it might not be worth trying to remove all the equipment right away.

What’s clear is that the U.S. said the Chinese technology ban was urgent and then failed to make it stick.

Removing Huawei and ZTE equipment, which is used mostly in rural areas of the U.S., was never going to be simple, and pandemic-related complications made things worse. But critics of the U.S. approach also said that the way officials handled it hurt American businesses and consumers without making the country much safer.

Let me backtrack to how this all started. For about a decade, U.S. officials said repeatedly that phone and internet equipment from Huawei and ZTE could be used as gateways for Chinese government spying or to disrupt essential U.S. communications. Those warnings persuaded the largest U.S. phone and internet companies, such as AT&T and Verizon, to stay away from buying such equipment.

Nearly everyone in the U.S. government and business community who works on this issue says that was the right thing to do. (There is less consensus on the wisdom of restrictions on Huawei smartphones.) Huawei and ZTE have consistently said that those security concerns were unfounded and that the U.S. government has never provided public proof of its allegations.

Smaller companies, mostly in rural areas, weren’t as strongly discouraged from buying Huawei and ZTE equipment. A sizable minority of them continued to buy items from the companies, such as devices similar to home internet modems and gear to bounce mobile signals around.

The U.S. government declared that was too much of a risk. Starting in 2019, the U.S. effectively ordered all companies with Huawei and ZTE gear to replace all of it. The government promised taxpayer money to help pay for comparable equipment from U.S. or European companies.

The Federal Communications Commission once estimated the cost of replacing Chinese gear to be about $2 billion. An updated estimate disclosed last month showed it was about $5 billion. It will take time for the F.C.C. and Congress to figure out how to pay the amounts small telecom companies say they need. In the meantime, many such providers haven’t even started replacing Huawei and ZTE equipment, as Politico reported last month.

There is plenty of finger-pointing over how this happened. Congress imposed a mandate on small companies, and then didn’t follow through with the money. U.S. officials waffled on which types of Huawei and ZTE equipment should be replaced. The delay and muddled official messages slowed down the process.

Naomi Wilson, an Asia policy specialist at ITI, a trade group of U.S. tech and telecommunications companies, told me that the first estimates for replacing the equipment were best guesses that proved far too low. Inflation, supply-chain problems and a trade war between the U.S. and China increased the price.

One big question is whether this drama could have been avoided. I asked Paul Triolo, senior vice president for China at Albright Stonebridge Group, a strategy firm, if the U.S. had a good plan with wobbly execution or if the strategy was misguided to begin with. He said it was a little of both.

Triolo said that the U.S. government could have phased out Huawei and ZTE equipment over many years — similar to Britain’s approach — and fast-tracked removal of some types of Chinese gear or equipment near sensitive locations such as near military facilities. While the U.S. said that it needed to remove the risk of the equipment quickly, all that stuff remains in place anyway, he said.

Triolo and some other China policy experts that I’ve spoken to are concerned that America’s approaches to Chinese tech aren’t always effective or focused on the right things.

The U.S. is also concerned about the potential for TikTok or other apps originating from Chinese companies to siphon sensitive data on Americans or spread Chinese government propaganda. Policymakers haven’t figured out yet how to address those concerns or made much progress on the relentless Chinese cyberattacks on American government agencies and companies.

Officials don’t always have coherent messages about building a homegrown computer chip industry to counter China. And if the U.S. wants to keep American technology strong, it could do more to support the immigration of tech experts or repeal Chinese tariffs that hurt Americans.

The U.S. could, in theory, do it all. Officials could wall off the country from potential foreign dangers and devote the time, money and smarts necessary to support the best policies for American innovation. Instead, we have bits and parts that don’t yet add up to much.

Read past On Tech newsletters on how the U.S. is responding to Chinese technology:

  • Taiwan churns out the most important electronic devices on Earth: My colleagues Paul Mozur and Raymond Zhong explained why advanced computer chips were part of the backdrop to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s contentious visit to Taiwan this week.

  • There is no simple blueprint to internet fame and riches: How-to courses suggest people can become famous online by paying freelancers to churn out YouTube videos with similar ingredients, such as an unseen narrator, a catchy headline or a Top 10 list about celebrities. My colleague Nico Grant reported that this can’t-lose proposition definitely can lose.

  • She makes a living roasting dudes online. Drew Afualo makes some of the most popular videos of TikTok by verbally trashing people for their displays of racism, fatphobia and misogyny, Bloomberg News reported. (A subscription may be required.)

Check out these charismatic golden lion tamarins at the National Zoo in Washington. They love fake plants!

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ElonJet is (sort of) back on Twitter



The college student who ran the now-banned @ElonJet Twitter account that used public information to track Elon Musk’s private jet has resumed his activities on Twitter under a new username. As noted by Insider, Jack Sweeney, 20, has created a new account called @ElonJetNextDay — which now tracks Musk’s private jet with a 24-hour delay to circumvent Twitter policy restrictions.

Sweeney’s original ElonJet account was suspended from the platform last week following accusations from Musk that it violated Twitter rules by revealing his live location. Twitter updated its policy to forbid publishing a person’s real-time location on the same day it suspended ElonJet. Sweeney said in an interview with Insider that he will be “posting manually” for now while he works on the framework to fully automate the account.

Musk tweeted on December 15th that “Posting locations someone traveled to on a slightly delayed basis isn’t a safety problem, so is ok.” Twitter also explicitly states that “sharing publicly available location information after a reasonable time has elapsed, so that the individual is no longer at risk for physical harm” is not a violation of platform rules. Elsewhere in the policy, it notes that its definition of “live” location data means someone’s real-time or same-day whereabouts.

Most commercial and private aircraft are equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology (ADS-B) that transmits a unique code (tied to the airplane’s tail number) containing information such as altitude and GPS location. This information is publicly available and aircraft flying in the USA and Europe are required to broadcast it in order to prevent midair collisions.

In a statement back in November, Musk said he would not ban the original ElonJet account as part of his “commitment to free speech” despite claiming it was a “direct personal safety risk.” The automated ElonJet account posted publicly available information regarding the location of Musk’s 2015 Gulfstream G650ER, and had amassed over 540,000 followers before it was permanently banned on December 14th. Musk previously offered Sweeney $5,000 to have the account taken down.

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She Worked for Twitter. Then She Tweeted at Elon Musk.



Early in November, Twitter’s roughly 7,500 employees received a terse email from a generic address: “In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global work force.” The note was signed “Twitter.” On Nov. 3, some people at the company received emails indicating they would be laid off the next day.

That night, Ms. Solomon, her husband and a few colleagues headed to Dots Cafe Portland, a lounge on Clinton Street. Phones were on the table, face up, she said. As the work friends talked, they tapped away at their phones, taking part in chats on the Signal app with colleagues in London, Seattle and San Francisco. Messages like “I got hit” were flying across screens, Ms. Solomon recalled. “You were seeing your co-workers drop like flies,” she said.

By the next afternoon her team of about 10 engineers was reduced to four. Ms. Solomon and her husband had survived the round of layoffs. The next week, she recalled, she awaited further direction from Mr. Musk or the new executive team. Nothing came, she said, except for an email alerting employees that remote work would no longer be permitted, with few exceptions.

Many employees learned of Mr. Musk’s priorities by watching his Twitter feed, where he posted frequently about company business to his more than 100 million followers. On Nov. 5, he complained about the platform’s search function: “Search within Twitter reminds me of Infoseek in ’98! That will also get a lot better pronto,” he wrote. That same day, he tweeted: “Twitter will soon add ability to attach long-form text to tweets, ending absurdity of notepad screenshots.”

That was more than Ms. Solomon and many of her colleagues had heard internally. “Radio silence,” she said. She began to vent her frustration on Twitter.

One of her first tweets in this vein came on Nov. 6, shortly after Mr. Musk announced a new rule for Twitter users in a tweet: “Any name change at all will cause temporary loss of verified checkmark,” he wrote. He had posted that message after many people on Twitter had changed their names to variations on Mr. Musk’s name, most of them mocking.

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The new iOS 16.2 Home app architecture upgrade has disappeared



Apple has removed the option to upgrade to the new HomeKit architecture on devices running iOS 16.2. The change follows multiple reports of issues and problems with the Home app after the upgrade was installed.

Apple spokesperson Emily Ewing confirmed the change in a statement provided to The Verge:

“We are aware of an issue that may impact the ability for users to share the Home within the Home app. A fix will be available soon. In the meantime, we’ve temporarily removed the option to upgrade to the new Home architecture. Users who have already upgraded will not be impacted.“

The new Home app architecture was one of the key features of iOS 16.2, with Apple claiming that the upgrade would be “more reliable and efficient.” MacRumors first discovered this week that the Home app in iOS 16.2 no longer offers the option to upgrade to the new architecture within the Home app settings. Several reporters at The Verge have also confirmed that the upgrade option is unavailable on their devices.

The new architecture was first introduced in the iOS 16.2 beta back in October as an optional upgrade before the iOS 16.2 public release on December 13th. Both the beta and public release required Apple devices logged into iCloud to be running the latest versions of iOS, macOS, and tvOS. The upgrade does not happen automatically when iOS 16.2 is installed on a phone, instead requiring a manual process through the Home app.

The update has caused issues with missing devices and adding multiple users for some

Reddit users who downloaded the optional upgrade prior to its removal have reported issues such as the app booting other members from a Home account and being unable to re-add them. Users on the MacRumors forum have reported being unable to invite users to share the Home, HomeKit‌ devices being stuck displaying an “updating” status, and some accessories vanishing from the Home app entirely. Users who have already upgraded are unable to revert to the previous version of the app.

Update, December 23rd, 2022, 2:15PM ET: Added confirmation and statement from Apple spokesperson. Added links to Apple’s updated support pages.

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