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Chinese state media calls spy chips story “science fiction”

Bloomberg says servers bound for Apple, Amazon had secret chips installed

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

A report about China’s spy chips potentially infiltrating Apple and Amazon sent shockwaves through the internet… except in China.

Bloomberg reported that tiny chips were inserted on Chinese-manufactured motherboards bound for companies including Apple and Amazon. The chips reportedly allow attackers access into networks where they’re installed.

Amazon, Apple and Supermicro, the manufacturer of the servers, have all strenuously denied the story, while the US government has not commented.

While Western social media has been all over the story, that same level of discussion isn’t present in China. Part of of that is down to a lack of exposure: Bloomberg is blocked in the country, and only a handful of Chinese media reported the story.

But one of those who did was state-run media Global Times. They called it “science fiction” in a WeChat article. The title of that article gives you a pretty good idea of their position: “Has the US lost their mind in the past 24 hours?”

Most of the comments on Chinese social media agree.

“I saw the Bloomberg spy chip story, and it’s inconceivable,” one user says, “Anyone with basic engineering knowledge wouldn’t believe such BS. How can you incorporate memory and networking capability into a rice-sized chip?”

Funnily enough, some think the technology in this hack is too advanced for China -- pointing to the ZTE saga, when it argued that a ban on buying US components would cripple the company.

Chairman tells staff to stay calm after US slaps crippling ban on ZTE

“I don’t mean to look down on my country, but if China’s technology has been this advanced, how did ZTE get strangled? That’s why I don’t buy it,” reads one popular comment.
Others question the timing of the report. “I feel like this is preparation for escalating the trade war -- especially when Pence will be giving the China speech later tonight. It’s just too much of a coincidence,” one popular post says.
But there was one funny note. Some commenters say they’ve found the spy chips in question… on Taobao. For 15 cents.

We have no idea how they verified that they’re the right chips, so they’re probably not the exact ones from Bloomberg’s report. But they also cost just 15 cents, so yeah, we bought one.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba -- which also owns Taobao.)

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.