CES 2014: Qualcomm CEO on NSA -- "We Can't Comment on That"
January 6, 2014 4:20 PM
As a top U.S. telecommunications and hardware player, Qualcomm's silence is somewhat disturbing
At the close of Qualcomm Inc.'s (
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
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 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. (
CEO Larry Ellison
happily opines his support for domestic spying
and Google Inc. (
Chairman Eric Schmidt
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
(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 (
) for a $4.5B USD jet fighter contract. The F/A-18 Super Hornet was formerly the front runner for the contract
. Now the update to Brazil's jet fleet will go to Swedish jetmaker Saab AB (
) 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
As 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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