Print 18 comment(s) - last by superstition.. on Jan 8 at 10:58 AM

As a top U.S. telecommunications and hardware player, Qualcomm's silence is somewhat disturbing

At the close of Qualcomm Inc.'s (QCOM) Monday 2014 Computer Electronics Show (CES 2014) keynote I asked Qualcomm's new CEO Steve Mollenkopf a question that's of keen interest to foreign customers -- how can Qualcomm's technology be trusted in light of recent revelations of companies appearing to assist the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to spy not only on Americans, but on business leaders in ally states such as Brazil, Japan, South Korea, France, and Germany?

The CEO gave me a pretty boilerplate nonanswer.  He stated:

I think if you look at Qualcomm's technology you will see that we're among the leaders in the industry in security.  But as for what the government is doing we can not comment on that.

A Qualcomm representative took my card and promised to email me a followup comment.

Qualcomm Mollenkopf
Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf at his company's CES 2014 keynote

I understand the hesitancy of tech leaders to go on the record and comment on NSA spying.  While there are some notable exceptions of course, such as Oracle Corp. (ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison who happily opines his support for domestic spying and Google Inc. (GOOG) Chairman Eric Schmidt who calls spying "not ok", most leaders are likely fearful of reprecussions in terms of government contracts and taxation, should they voice negative thoughts on the U.S. government's spy programs.

On the other hand it's too important and financially costly an issue to suffer in silence.  The NSA spying is expected to cost the IT space $21.5-35B USD (according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)) over the next three years, due to damaged trust in the international community.

We've already seen one such high profile loss -- Brazil's national government shot down a bid by The Boeing Comp.'s (BA) for a $4.5B USD jet fighter contract.  The F/A-18 Super Hornet was formerly the front runner for the contract according to Reuters.  Now the update to Brazil's jet fleet will go to Swedish jetmaker Saab AB (STO:SAAB-B) who will provide the South American nation 36 new Gripen NG fighters by 2020.

As embarassing leaks continue to accelerate we may be looking at an even more massive loss of business for the U.S. electronics industry than previously expected in terms of foreign sales.  The U.S. leads the world in electronics, but there all alternatives.  The market will likely choose to take those alternatives -- at least in terms of corporate IT and government contracts -- if U.S. tech is suspected of containing back doors for NSA malware.

Qualcomm SnapdragonAs a top provider of processors for mobile devices and basestation technology, Qualcomm needs to clarify its thoughts on NSA spying and how it plans to protect its customers.

For that reason I feel it is a vitally important for any U.S. company involved in telecommunications -- be it on the hardware or software side (both of which Qualcomm is involved in) -- to provide a clear and considered response to such questions.  If they do not, any lost business will be on their backs as much as on the policies Americans and Congress unwittingly allowed to fester and grow, fertilized by national security fears.

Sometimes it makes sense to have such a response come from a legal team that can offer up a clear statement of the company's perspective on the issue, while avoiding unnecessarily inflammatory language.

In that regard, I hope to hear a more in-depth response from Qualcomm's PR/legal team shortly.

[Qualcomm's keynote was at noon at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.]

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By Milliamp on 1/6/2014 4:45:03 PM , Rating: 3
Now that it has been released that the US government has been intercepting new computer purchases to bug them we can pretty much assume the same is true of mobile phones and such and that nearly every major US company who the government feels would be useful to puppet around is likely involved.

Literally all recent available information points sternly in that direction. Multiple government agencies have multiple duplicate efforts to spy on everyone.

The biggest problem the government has with spying on you is not if its ethical but rather which of the many major organizations gets the jurisdiction (and budget money) for doing it.

I have to give him some credit for not lying and outright denying it. You don't think he answered the question but I think he did.

He is allowed to deny it if it isn't true, he isn't allowed to admit it if it is true. You received an answer about as free of PR spin as you could have hoped to get.

By Argon18 on 1/6/2014 5:16:51 PM , Rating: 3
Obama the two-faced devil, all smiles and cool-cat demeanor, but spies on his own people, his allies, and is a breeder of mis-trust and deception.

By CalaverasGrande on 1/6/2014 5:57:58 PM , Rating: 5
you say that as if you know of an honest one faced politician. You are either being coy or naive.
The intelligence community spying on Americans did not begin with Obama or even Bush. It isn't a partisan issue, but it certainly is an issue. Any of my reps that defend this violation of privacy "because of terrorist" do not have my vote.
And I don't care if I have to switch party's to vote against them.

By mindless1 on 1/6/2014 11:36:55 PM , Rating: 2
It is false logic to imply that just because nobody's innocent, we can then excuse behavior that's much worse than average.

It does not matter when it began, it's a senseless argument to think in those terms instead of where to go from here, today forward. Today forward it does no good to look at the past unless you have a time machine we can use to go there.

By superstition on 1/7/2014 8:12:48 AM , Rating: 3
Those who don't learn from the past...

By Rukkian on 1/7/2014 10:40:05 AM , Rating: 4
He was directly responding to somebody that blamed it all on Obama. While Obama has ramped it up, all of this has been going on for quite some time.

I really don't think that any politician will stop this until the country finally wakes up and puts their foot down, unfortunately, most of the country are idiots who just parrot the Fox news reports that Obama is the devil, or other outlets showing that everything is the Republican's fault.

I think both are corrupt, and we would need to get rid of both parties and start over, or at least get rid of all incumbents.

I say we all just start voting for challengers (don't worry about the party) until things start to change. Eventually if enough people loose their jobs (the power is what they really care about), they might start listening.

By Monkey's Uncle on 1/7/2014 12:26:35 PM , Rating: 2
Anybody want to place bets that the next yahoo that gets into the white house is not going hose everyone with reach even worse than Obama is doing?


By superstition on 1/8/2014 10:53:14 AM , Rating: 2
By Etsp on 1/6/2014 5:58:53 PM , Rating: 5
Do you think it's possible that it was the CIA's inability to do that with Huawei's products that caused the administration to start pointing the finger at them?

That whole "Huwei has ties to the Chinese military, you shouldn't use their products because the Chinese will spy on you." I mean, that's a classic misdirection right there, accuse someone potentially innocent of the crimes you're actively committing.

By Solandri on 1/6/2014 7:38:11 PM , Rating: 5
What makes you think China isn't doing the same thing with Huwei? While the NSA probably has one of if not the most sophisticated programs, I expect most of the world's governments (including China, Russia, the UK, France, Israel) have similar programs, and laws to keep their commercial "partners" silent about it.

Just because it's trendy to paint the U.S. as the bad guy doesn't mean everyone else is a good guy.

By superstition on 1/7/2014 8:14:11 AM , Rating: 2
tu quoque

By Monkey's Uncle on 1/7/2014 12:35:56 PM , Rating: 1
Excellent and totally valid observation.

Any gooberment currently in power will do everything it can get away with to expand its own power and control over its populace.

Any incumbent to that position will do exactly the same thing if they get the chance.

Any alpha dog will do everything it can to consolidate his control over the pack. So give Obama a pat on the head and toss him a milk bone. He is doing exactly what anybody can expect an alpha dog to do.

By superstition on 1/8/2014 10:58:06 AM , Rating: 2
The fact is that there are very different governments that have occurred in various places. They are not all authoritarian police states to the degree the current administration wants.

Technology, though, is making it much easier for governments to dominate people -- must easier to create police states. However, as we saw with the Arab Spring, it can work in the opposite direction with enough pent up anger.

By flatrock on 1/7/2014 1:11:01 PM , Rating: 2
I think you are reading too much into this. Give them a chance to provide a response.

The article doesn't give the exact wording of the question he was asked, and there are likely to be repercussions to answering it even if he can honestly say that he knows of no cases where they cooperated with the US government to circumvent their own security.

I'm sure they probably turned over a lot of information about their chips when they or one of the companies using their chips sought to have them used for some level of secure communications. Is that cooperating to subvert their own security. Does he even know the details of such things well enough to give an honest answer that won't be interpreted differently by someone with hindsight? Therefore the smartest thing to do is to not comment on it until they do a little internal research.

What did you expect?
By lagomorpha on 1/6/2014 5:32:49 PM , Rating: 2
Well what kind of an answer did you expect? It's not as though he could just say, "it is not feasible for consumers worldwide to trust American companies at this time." He would be removed from CEO for an answer like that.

RE: What did you expect?
By milktea on 1/6/2014 7:42:20 PM , Rating: 2
He's just checking to see if the CEO was intoxicated :D

RE: What did you expect?
By eldakka on 1/7/2014 10:49:45 PM , Rating: 2
Well what kind of an answer did you expect?

Q: "Does Qualcomm have any known or suspected backdoors or unpatched vulnerabilities in their software or hardware that is being exploited by US government agencies?"

A: "That is not a question I can truthfully answer with a 'no'".

Rush to publish...
By croc on 1/7/14, Rating: 0
"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

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