Huawei attempted to snoop on Apple's trade secrets through suppliers: Report

The report sheds light on Huawei's tactics of stealing trade secrets which were aimed at Apple.

Less than a month after Huawei was indicted by the US Justice Department on a number of criminal charges including stealing trade secrets, a new report throws light on some of the tactics used by Huawei to garner information from the likes of Apple.

As per an investigative report by The Information, the publication shared a few purported anecdotes of Huawei trying to steal Apple's trade secrets. Huawei engineers basically pretended to lure in Apple's manufacturers and suppliers with hopes of big orders and then used the opportunity to pry on processes specific to Apple's component production.

Stating a few other examples, the report suggests that Huawei engineers were prodding the supplier to "suggest a design you already have experience with" after sending a photo of a product design material.

Huawei attempted to snoop on Apples trade secrets through suppliers: Report

Huawei was recently charged with stealing T-Mobile’s proprietary phone testing technology called ‘Tappy’. Image: Reuters

In another example, Huawei engineers working on a smartwatch met with a supplier during which they tried to eke out specs about the Apple Watch's heart rate sensor by promising bulk orders.

The Huawei representatives apparently said to the supplier that their design was similar to Apple's but refused to share schematics. Instead, they asked the supplier to estimate a general cost of the component. The implication is that they wanted to discover information about Apple's cost structures.

“They were trying their luck, but we wouldn’t tell them anything,” said an executive from the supplier present at the meeting.

Things certainly don't end there.

The report also alleges that Huawei quite likely copied the 2016 MacBook Pro's thinner hinge design.

Huawei headquarters in China.

Huawei headquarters in China.

Huawei employees met with Apple suppliers and presented a schematic. The design was recognised by the suppliers to be near-identical to Apple's and they refused to manufacture it on those grounds. The Chinese company, however, did manage to find a manufacturer and went ahead with the same hinge design, which looks strikingly similar to that on the Huawei MateBook Pro.

The report also suggests that Huawei may just be one of the brands who've been found to stoop low to spy on arch competition, but there are others as well who bribe factory floor workers into sketching designs of Apple parts and passing them over.

However, as pointed out in a report by MacRumors, Huawei's current issues at hand stretch well beyond just trying to pry on Apple's suppliers. The company's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou is accused of a bank and wire fraud, lying to the government destroying documents, and attempting to evade an investigation by sending Huawei employees back to China before authorities could interrogate them.

According to a report in ZDNet, a Huawei spokesperson has denied these allegations. Apple has yet to comment on the matter.

As it is, Huawei is under the radar and has been banned by many countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, Great Britain and many more, as far as its 5G products are concerned. The allegations there are Huawei 5G products have a backdoor entry which can let Chinese state authorities conduct cyber espionage operations. Huawei founder, Ren Zhengfei, who is said to be close to China's Communist Party, has denied any allegations claiming that Huawei provides a backdoor entry to Chinese government.

"The Chinese government has already clearly said that it won’t install any backdoors. And we won’t install backdoors either. Our company will never undertake any spying activities. If we have any such actions, then I’ll shut the company down," Zhengfei had recently told the BBC.

This report of Huawei executives found trying to steal trade secrets from rival Apple, could not go down well with regulators. Considering Huawei is the top smartphone seller in China, and is eating into Apple's market there, a report like this could put a spanner in the works of Huawei's global ambitions for its consumer products.

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