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US tech companies are helping China monitor millions of its citizens, report shows

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Google was kicked out of China almost a decade ago – but it has been trying to find its way back into this extremely lucrative market almost the entire intervening time.

While its main products and services remain unavailable in China, one of the ways the tech giant is present in the market today is through baby steps: third parties used to distribute Android software and Google Ads.

But there is also some nonprofit activity the giant is involved in, The Intercept is reporting.

Google is joined in the nonprofit in question, The OpenPower Foundation, by another US tech giant, IBM, US chipmaker Xilinx, and Chinese company Semptian. However, the seemingly good-will effort to promote innovation may not be entirely above board, the website said.

Namely, The Intercept has reportedly learned from an unnamed employee that Semptian is providing technology that secretly monitors 200 million people’s activities online.

And citing “sources and documents,” the report said Semptian is using microprocessors it works on with Google, IBM, and Xilinx “to enhance the capabilities of internet surveillance and censorship technology it provides to human rights-abusing security agencies in China.”

And while Semptian says it specializes in big data analysis, the Intercept said that much of its business comes from iNext, a front company “which sells the internet surveillance and censorship tools to governments.”

In the US, Senator Mark Warner (D), the Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman, told the website it was “disturbing to see that China has successfully recruited Western companies and researchers to assist them in their information control efforts.”

A representative of the Amnesty International NGO warned that companies must comply with human rights standards when they forge partnerships.

Meanwhile, Semptian, Google, and Xilinx did not comment, while The OpenPower Foundation said it was not involved in individual businesses of its members, and cited antitrust and competition legislation.

As for IBM, their only comment was that there had been no work with Semptian “on joint technology development.”

But another anonymous source with knowledge of Semptian’s business is quoted as saying that collaboration did occur via the SuperVessel cloud platform.

The Intercept said that a reporter contacted Semptian posing as a customer and was referred to iNext documents about a surveillance system Aegis, that can “store and analyze unlimited data and provide a full view to the virtual world.”

This allegedly includes allowing governments access to “the connections of everyone (…) including location information for everyone in the country.”

As for the reasons US companies would enter into such partnerships in the first place? The report speculates it’s the attraction of the huge Chinese market.

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