Addressing the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence said Google should immediately stop developing the so-called "Dragonfly" mobile device application that will compromise privacy of Chinese customers.
Pence charged that Chinese security agencies were behind the major theft of US technological breakthroughs, including advanced military blueprints, being largely "more active than ever" in exerting pressure on US policies and interfering in the country's domestic affairs.
US Should Focus on Educating Consumers
The US government would be better advised to focus on educating consumers on the potential pitfalls of the "Dragonfly" software and recommending software safeguards rather than trying to bully Google, University of Pittsburgh Professor of International Affairs Michael Brenner said.
"Let's not tell Google what to do and educate users instead," Brenner said. "Google gets some of the best talent in the country, trained in the United States, Russia, India and everywhere, working on clever software that can incorporate some protection of consumers."
"Of course, if you are going to share your location and contact list to every app that asks for it, you are going to be giving away valuable information. Even if you are just giving it back to Google who can then ‘serve’ you with many advertisements," he said.
This was especially the case in societies where people were familiar with the massive capabilities for surveillance and detection that governments could employ, Brenner explained.
"Put people know these incentives and can think for themselves… Especially in a somewhat autocratic and intrusive regime, we can expect people to be less naive and use a lot of precautions," he said.
Users of electronic devices were often more careless and vulnerable in using their smartphones than in working on their personal computers, Brenner pointed out.
"How often does an alert consumer get caught in a Phishing attack? Probably more on their phone than on a computer where it's easier to see more information about sources of mail and where links are actually going," Brenner said.
The immense computing power available now billions of people on their smartphones and personal computers came along with the obligation to take increasing care how to use it, Brenner emphasized.
"Personal devices imply personal responsibility for caution in every respect," Brenner said.
US Action Likely to Backfire
Trump and Pence might succeed in their immediate and narrow goal of pressuring Google to pause or scrap its "Dragonfly" project, Independent Institute Center for Peace and Freedom Director Ivan Eland acknowledged.
"It would be difficult legally, but Trump often bullies, using excess executive power, into doing at least part of what he wants," Eland said.
"Since most experts see no evidence of Pence’s claim that China’s election meddling is anywhere near Russia’s, it seems like an attempt to misdirect from or attenuate the Russia-meddling scandal (by saying lots of countries do it) or give the Republicans an excuse for losing the 2018 mid-terms," Eland said.
Pence provided no evidence that the Chinese were actively meddling to harm Republican chances in 2018, Eland observed.
"Until he does, no sanctions should be imposed," Eland cautioned.
Trump’s own previous punitive sanctions against China had narrowed the range of economic and other punishing options he could still apply against Beijing, Eland noted.
"Because Trump has already started a trade war with China, there are fewer sanctions possible anyway," Eland said.
Increased tariffs were already affecting US-China commerce significantly. So sanctions would only further stress US-China commercial relations, Eland added.