Big name tech firms have been criticised by a prominent figure in the industry, over their ‘close links’ to China.

Peter Thiel is the co-founder of PayPal, and is also an early investor in Facebook, and a well-known venture capitalist.

Thiel is also a supporter of former US president Donald Trump and is co-founder of data-mining company Palantir, which last year signed deals with the UK’s NHS.

Thiel used a virtual appearance at an event held by the Richard Nixon Foundation on Wednesday – an event focused on China – to slam both Apple and Google for being too close to China. He was joined at the event by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.

Berlin, Germany, March 19, 2014. Hy! Summit – Image by Dan Taylor.

Google criticism

But what exactly did Thiel criticise Apple and Google for, regarding China?

Google was singled out by Thiel, despite the fact that it has a notorious frosty relationship with China since 2009 and 2010.

A decade ago, Google had accused Chinese-based hackers of carrying out the attacks on the Gmail accounts, an accusation that China has always denied.

That cyber attack triggered a huge political row between America and China in 2010 and 2011, and resulted in Google effectively retreating from the Chinese market after it refused to abide by that country’s censorship rules.

But Thiel still slammed Google for its alleged work on artificial intelligence with Chinese universities.

In 2017, Google opened an artificial intelligence (AI) research centre in China – despite the fact its search engine and other services remain blocked in the country.

Thiel’s criticism of Google was partially because of conversations he claimed to have had with company insiders, according to a transcript of the event reviewed by CNBC.

“Since everything in China is a civilian- military fusion, Google was effectively working with the Chinese military, not with the American military,” Thiel reportedly said.

Google response

He also said that Google “insiders” told him that they worked with the Chinese because “they figured they might as well give the technology out the front door, because if they didn’t give it – it would get stolen anyway.”

But Google has hit back at Thiel.

“These allegations are baseless,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “We do not work with the Chinese military. We are proud to continue our long history of work with the US government, including the Department of Defense, in many areas including cybersecurity, recruiting and healthcare.”

It should be noted that Thiel has previously criticised Google in 2019, saying that the FBI and CIA should investigate Google and ask whether it had been compromised by Chinese spies.

Apple, Bitcoin

Apple was not spared either, and Thiel pointed out that other tech firms such as Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft do not have as extensive business interests in the country, in some cases because the Chinese government has restricted what they can do there.

Thiel reportedly called for the US to put a “lot of pressure” and scrutiny on Apple because of its labour supply chain in the country.

“Apple is probably the one that’s structurally a real problem, because the whole iPhone supply chain gets made from China,” Thiel said. “Apple is one that has real synergies with China.”

Thiel also used the talk to express his concerns about Bitcoin, even though he has invested in Bitcoin companies and previously said he was “long bitcoin” and considers it the “digital equivalent of gold.”

But Thiel this week reportedly said that Bitcoin threatens the US dollar, and is being used as a weapon by the Chinese.

“Even though I’m sort of a pro-crypto, pro-Bitcoin maximalist person, I do wonder whether at this point Bitcoin should also be thought in part of as a Chinese financial weapon against the US, where it threatens fiat money, but it especially threatens the US dollar, and China wants to do things to weaken it, so China’s long Bitcoin,” Thiel was quoted as saying.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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