Tech

U.S. tech giants are reportedly providing web services to blacklisted Chinese surveillance firms

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Key Points
  • Amazon and Microsoft are among a number of American firms that are providing various web services to blacklisted Chinese surveillance firms, a new report claims.
  • In October, some of China's most valuable surveillance artificial intelligence firms were put on a U.S. blacklist and were accused of being "implicated" in human rights abuses. 
  • Top10VPN said in a report that these U.S. giants were providing "essential web services that power these companies' websites."

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Picture of Hikvision cameras in an electronic mall in Beijing on May 24, 2019.
Fred Dufour | AFP | Getty Images

A new report claims that Amazon and Microsoft are among a number of American firms that are providing various web services to Chinese surveillance firms accused of human rights abuses and which are now on a U.S. blacklist.

Top10VPN, a site that reviews virtual private network (VPN) services and researches topics on privacy, said in a report that it had identified U.S. technology giants that provide "essential web services that power these companies' websites."

While the report initially stated that Google was among those firms, the website has since clarified with CNBC that while two blacklisted Chinese companies use Google's web services, it doesn't necessarily mean the U.S. search giant has an active relationship with these firms.

CNBC reached out to the U.S. firms named in the report as providing such services to the blacklisted Chinese surveillance companies. None were immediately available for comment.

In October, some of China's most valuable surveillance artificial intelligence firms were put on the U.S. Entity List, a move designed to restrict their access to American technology. That is the same blacklist that Huawei sits on

Washington alleged that "these entities have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China's campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups" in China's Xinjiang region.

The territory has made headlines for its detention and "re-education" camps that reportedly hold an estimated 1.5 million Muslims, many of them for violating what Amnesty International describes as a "highly restrictive and discriminatory" law that China says is designed to combat extremism.

According to Top10VPN, some of the services provided by U.S. tech firms include hosting the surveillance firms' website and emails to authentication methods. 

"Through providing essential web services to these controversial companies, U.S. firms are playing a part in the proliferation of highly invasive surveillance products that have the potential to undermine human rights around the world," Simon Migliano, head of research at Top10VPN, said in the report. 

Top10VPN said it identified that U.S. firms were involved using a combination of public tools, examining source code of websites and analyzing traffic to those sites. 

The company alleged that Amazon is providing web services for Dahua Technology and Hikvision, two Chinese blacklisted companies. Meanwhile, Microsoft's services are reportedly being used by SenseTime and Megvii, two of China's most valuable artificial intelligence start-ups.

Dahua and Hikvision are also using some of Google's web services, according to an update of the Top10VPN report, this does not mean the search giant has an "active relationship with these companies."

A number of other U.S. technology companies were named, including website authentication and encryption companies Digicert, Lets Encrypt, Entrust and GeoTrust. Domain name hosting firm GoDaddy was on the list as well as cybersecurity company Symantec, which is now known as NortonLifeLock. Stackpath, which works on the delivery of internet content, was also named.  

Twitter and Facebook were also named as providing content delivery network services to Hikvision, but Top10VPN  also clarified that they don't currently have an active relationship with the Chinese firm. 

CNBC has reached out to all the American firms that were named to request for comment on the report. Symantec, Verisign and NTT America declined to comment, and CNBC did not hear back from the rest of the companies.

China's surveillance firms have been caught up in the tensions between the world's two largest economies. The administration of President Donald Trump has carried out a campaign against Chinese firms, with Huawei being the most high profile target, that aims to cut off their access to American technology. 

But Top10VPN's Migliano claimed the company's report shows a relationship still remains between the U.S. and China's firms. 

"Despite the Trump administration's efforts to decouple the American and Chinese technology sectors, the continued presence of American companies in more discreet settings shows that cooperation between the two remains," Migliano said. 

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that after the first publication of this story, Top10VPN clarified that while blacklisted Chinese firms use web services from Google, Facebook and Twitter, it doesn't necessarily mean the U.S. companies have an active relationship with these blacklisted Chinese entities.