The MWC 2023 certainly was one of the most exciting editions of the past three years. Since 2019, we did not see an edition with so many releases. Despite this, it did not end without controversies, and the latest one involves Huawei.
Yeah, the giant is in trouble once again. Not exactly in trouble, but is suspected of unusual behavior during the MWC 2023. The brand has been in the center of the spotlight recently as the company keeps doing everything to recover from the US ban. Despite the lack of new phones, the brand got a lot of awards for its tech. However, it is being accused of tracking visitors at the MWC 2023.
Huawei accused of tracking users at MWC
Those visiting Huawei’s giant booth at the MWC 2023 are supposed to return their badges and lanyards as soon as they leave. However, some users managed to escape with the lanyard. These have a small plastic container, which is not meant to be taken apart. We assume that for some, this is like saying “c’mon take it apart”, after all, some users decided to do so and ended up shocked after finding a tiny electronic chip – the kind of low-signal chip that might be used for tracking movement.
One possibility is that Huawei has been using the Beacon technology at its booth. It relies on low-power signals for tracking over distances of up to 70 meters. But what was the exact point of using this tech at the MWC 2023, without users’ consent? Perhaps just for collecting data, and checking the interest of users.
The back of the Huawei badge refers to the use of local-area radio systems to aid tracking, it says “We use RFID and Bluetooth tech to collect the swipe time of this Huawei Card at the entrance of Huawei exhibition area, real-time location information and the residence time of visitors. The info would be collected and processed only for the purpose of checking the interest of visitors in Huawei’s products. The goal is to “enhance the quality of services”.
Huawei defends itself
Light Reading contacted Huawei which replied “the Huawei pass is used only in the booth and returned when visitors get out” and “There is no need to track location”.
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Anyway, it was no surprise that this left some users angry. Many criticized Huawei for its lack of transparency. The situation is even worse when having in mind that Huawei has been accused several times of installing backdoors on its software and of sending user data to China. The brand denies all of this. Still, this was not enough to prevent the US from putting multiple sanctions on the company’s “shoulders”.
The situation is also embarrassing for the GSMA, the lobby group behind MWC. Although Huawei denies any “wrongdoing” or actual location tracking, the damage is already done. The GSMA states that “this is a serious allegation. They will investigate, but don’t have details to share at this moment”.
There are also some rules in Europe that protect users. For instance, the General Data Protection Regulation says “individuals have the right to know what info is being collected about them. They also need to know the purpose of the collection, and how it will be used.”
Is this the beginning of a new nightmare?
We will follow the case to see if this will escalate to something bigger. Right now we have the user concerns and the allegations versus the brand’s denials about tracking the visitors.
We have to say that it’s a big surprise to see a chip inside of a lanyard. However, considering that Huawei wanted visitors to give it back upon their exit, we don’t think the brand was really using it to track the movements across the entire trade fair. For now, we will have to wait for the evaluation. Despite this, Huawei had a good presence at the MWC 2023. Let’s see if this episode will hurt the brand’s momentum.