Huawei employees have now reportedly been caught spying for the government but not for the one that might come to mind first. According to the Wall Street Journal, the workers were spying not for China but for two separate African authorities.
The spying took place at the request of both Ugandan and Zambian officials. Specifically, a group of Huawei employees involved is said to have utilized "Pegasus" software to access and decrypt messages.
The spying in question didn't affect a wide swath of users in the two countries as might be expected based on widespread concerns about the company. Huawei workers are reported to have used the tools expressly to track 'political opponents'. But one individual seems to be at the center of the endeavor — namely, rapper-turned-political-activist Bobi Wine.
No further details have been released about the spying itself. Huawei is publicly denying any direct involvement and claims that it wasn't aware the hacks were taking place at all.
The "who" isn't as concerning as Huawei's apparent ignorance
Huawei's official denial that it knew anything about the malicious activities isn't likely to assuage every critic. That's because Huawei employees have been caught engaged in spying-related activities before.
Although that prior act was related to corporate espionage rather than being not linked with a government, the underlying methods used for that are more than similar enough for the incident to raise a few eyebrows. The company has, as with other accusations, denied involvement there as well.
Among accusations leveled at Huawei, it has been claimed that Huawei is or is a risk to governments.
The accusation comes back to fears that it might engage in spying on foreign powers for the Chinese government using its deeply embedded networking equipment.
Huawei is among the top mobile networking equipment suppliers and is a leading player in 5G technology. Its home region is often cited in claims of human rights violations and oppression, often actively and directly involving itself in the affairs of Chinese companies. So the fears aren't entirely unfounded.
Huawei hasn't yet revealed how it plans to handle the latest breach of public trust but this incident is entirely separate from those other accusations. It will almost certainly be dealt with internally.
That isn't likely to help the company, however, given its apparent obliviousness to the activity. It may make matters worse. A lack of knowledge on Huawei's part could be argued to indicate that the company doesn't need to be aware of or directly involved for spying to occur.
Going its own way in light of continuing pressure
One possible overarching solution that's been put forward for Huawei's bigger problem would be to take its own solutions open-source. That would allow the solutions to be examined more closely by unbiased third parties for problems. But that doesn't seem to be in the cards for the Chinese tech giant.
Instead, Huawei has put its efforts into creating alternatives to Android and mobile equipment that don't rely on US companies. The solutions include not only new boosts to its own internal components building off of Huawei subsidiary HiSilicon's Kirin chipsets. It is also hard at work creating its own operating system for mobile and other technology called HarmonyOS.
The company has continued doing well outside of the larger Western market in spite of its controversies and a rollercoaster of bans.