WASHINGTON (TODAY NEWS AFRICA USA) – It’s not just Chinese technology company Huawei. Other telecommunications giants from Samsung to Apple, from Facebook to Twitter and from Verizon to Google are most likely reading, listening, tracking and spying on people around the world, especially in Africa where all the technology is imported.
In May this year, I began to work on a story about Samsung Nigeria boss David Suh who was accused of racism and other malpractices.
After multiple communications spanning several weeks with many sources inside and outside of Samsung in Nigeria, the article was published.
Then, I began to receive even more contacts from Nigeria from the sources who feared Samsung International in South Korea would hack into my Samsung S8+ phone and identify them.
At first I dismissed them, but as I spoke with more senior staff of Samsung in Nigeria, I began to understand that my sources were no longer safe.
When the calls began coming in from Nigeria, their primary concern was to confirm I was not using a Samsung phone. When I told them I was, there was a dead silence and a scramble to delete messages and so on.
When I confronted Samsung African office in South Africa, they denied it. But my sources warned they would be monitoring my phone from now on until I switch to another phone company like Apple. But even Apple may not be a safe place, especially if I turned on them too someday.
Revelations this week following an investigation by The Wall Street Journal that Ugandan officials worked with technicians from telecoms company Huawei to spy on opposition figures in Uganda, Zambia and Algeria hit home for me.
The investigation found out that Huawei employees used cell data to track the location and intercept encrypted communications and social media of opposition figures in the three African countries of Uganda, Zambia and Algeria.
The technicians then provided the information to the governments to monitor and track opposition figures.
The Wall Street Journal report said Huawei technicians working in Uganda’s police headquarters office used Pegasus spyware made by Israeli company NSO Group to crack into the encrypted messages of a rapper-turned-activist named Bobi Wine.
The Wall Street Journal later corrected its original report to reflect that Uganda was using software that resembles the Pegasus software from NSO, not the actual Pegasus software itself.
Security sources told WSJ that a cyber team based at the Ugandan police headquarters asked the Huawei technicians for help after failing to access the encrypted messages using the spyware.
The NSO Group disputed the idea its Pegasus software was being used in this way in a statement to CNBC: “The WSJ article is wrong. And we told them that very clearly when they asked us. We don’t work with Huawei at all. We don’t do business with Uganda, at all. And only NSO sells Pegasus — no one else does.”
Although Huawei described the allegations as “unfounded and inaccurate” and dismissed allegations that its representatives were involved in similar intelligence-gathering operations in Zambia and Algeria, my experience with Samsung in May this year made things a bit too real.
The Chinese tech giant, which has been under scrutiny for its alleged links to the Chinese government, was blacklisted by the US in May as part of an ongoing trade war between the two nations.
The U.S. government has been warning in recent times that Huawei’s technology could be used by the Chinese government for espionage.
Despite denials from Huawei, Uganda and others, the latest report showed the extent to which Chinese tech employees from Huawei were ready to use technology to spy on African opponents and governments, and also how African dictatorial regimes were ready to seek and accept help from China to crush opposition and destroy democracy on the continent.
Huawei Technologies is a Chinese multinational technology company headquartered in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, that provides telecommunications equipment and sells consumer electronics, including smartphones.
Founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, Huawei initially focused on manufacturing phone switches before expanding its business to include building telecommunications networks, providing operational and consulting services and equipment to enterprises inside and outside of China, and manufacturing communications devices for the consumer market.
Huawei, which is present in more than 170 countries and serves at least 45 of the 50 largest telecom operators, has almost 200, 000 employees around the world with around 76,000 of them engaged in Research & Development (R&D).
Other big tech companies such as Samsung, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and many others may be engaged in the same nefarious business and spying practices.
This is mainly because the have access to the users’ phones and communications. They see what we read, hear what we say, have the ability to hack into our phones and all other tech devices.
In Africa, the situation is even more dire, where the awesome on privacy remains low. Virtually no African government has called on big tech companies to explain how they use the billions of data they get legally or illegally from the over 1.2 billion Africans.
My conclusion is that no one is safe, no privacy exists, no tech company can be trusted from now until the end of times.