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Lets talk about "Clean Path" and "Clean Network"

sgolovine profile image Sunny Golovine ・4 min read

A few days ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a press conference where he outlined the "Clean Network" initiative. While some of these points are aimed directly at national security and the likes, other points will give everyone some pause.

Disclaimer. This isn't a political piece, I will strictly be discussing how this initiative affects our community. I will give my opinion but I mostly just want to distill what was said in the press conference.

So let's discuss these initiatives, they are in in order (that Pompeo mentioned them): Clean Carrier, Clean Store, Clean Apps, Clean Cloud, and clean Cable. Lets go over each one:

Clean Carrier

We are working to ensure that untrusted Chinese telecom companies don’t provide international telecommunications services between the United States and foreign destinations.

This likely is in response to the whole Huawei debate. The gist is, besides making smartphones, Huawei is one of the largest manufacturers of 5G telecom equipment. With lots of countries that are allies with the US using Huawei's 5G telecom hardware.

The story gets pretty in the weeds but the gist is, you don't want a company that is controlled by an adversary making all your telecom hardware.

UK Govt Bans Huawei 5G (marketplace.org)

Huawei: Which countries are blocking its 5G technology? (bbc)

Clean Store

Second, we call Clean Store. We want to see untrusted Chinese apps removed from U.S. app stores. President Trump has mentioned impending action on TikTok, and for good reason. With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat, and others are significant threats to the personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for CCP content censorship.

This is where the hair on my neck starts to raise. On the one hand I get the political and national security angle, I just feel like it's a damn slippery slope. On a pragmatic level I see why this was done, but in doing this the US is breaking up the internet just like China is.

No further reading here, I'm sure you've heard about the whole TikTok debacle.

Clean Apps

Third, Clean Apps. We’re working to prevent Huawei and other untrusted vendors from pre-installing or making available for download the most popular U.S. apps. We don’t want companies to be complicit in Huawei’s human rights abuses or the CCP’s surveillance apparatus.

I'm not 100% sure why this is part of the initiative. From the remarks it seems like Pompeo is saying they want to prevent companies like Huawei from pre-installing some US apps on their devices. Quite possibly this is related to Chinese android phones getting Google certified (so they can run apps like Gmail, Maps, Play Services, etc)

Google reportedly ends business with Huawei, will cut it off from Play Store (ArsTechnica)

Huawei's new smartphones run the latest version of Google's Android operating system despite the US ban — here's how that works (Business Insider)

Clean Cloud

Fourth, Clean Cloud. We’re protecting Americans’ most sensitive personal information and our businesses’ most valuable intellectual property – including COVID vaccine research – from being accessed on cloud-based systems run by companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, China Mobile, China Telecom, and Tencent.

The concern here is that, like AWS and GCP in the US, Tencent and Alibaba offer very similar products to the Chinese market. This is where I think this comes from, I feel like they may ban the use of Alibaba and Tencent's cloud platforms for apps that operate in the US.

I feel like this is a good idea. As a user, I would much rather my data live in a data center in the US or EU versus on one in China.

Clean Cable

Fifth and finally, Clean Cable. We’re working to ensure that the CCP can’t compromise information carried by the undersea cables that connect our country and others to the global internet.

Honestly I don't know on this one. It's a good idea for sure, but I have no idea where this came from nor what the outcome of this will be, my take is unless you're in Telecom, you won't notice.

Final Thoughts

I wanted to write this up devoid of political opinions. I think it's important that everyone in this industry keep and ear to what is going on in government and around the world in relation to their industry.

No doubt most of this is rooted in politics; nevertheless, politics or not, this is likely something to affect all US and China based developers in the future.

There are many things I agree with Pompeo on here. I think Clean Carrier, Clean Cloud and Clean Cable initiatives are good ideas for national security, but I think the Clean Apps and Clean Store initiatives are a slippery slope that threaten to splinter the internet even more. We decry China's heavy hand in tech....then immediately follow their lead.

Read Sec. Pomepo's full Remarks

Discussion (2)

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grantholle profile image
Grant • Edited

I was writing a post about the banning of TIkTok and WeChat, but stopped. Basically I think direction this is all going is setting a terrible precedent of censorship. It honestly terrifies me so much. I don't buy for a single second this is to "protect US citizens."

US app makers have been caught doing the same thing over and over and over again.

You said it exactly right: "We decry China's heavy hand in tech....then immediately follow their lead."

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dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

It's all bad, but "Clean Cable" is especially risible when you think about the NSA having operated dedicated rooms in carrier facilities to tap backbone traffic directly for decades. Do as we say, not as we do!