Andrea Rizzi: Mobiles, genome and the gates of Beijing in Europe | Opinion

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Xi Jinping’s image on a screen during a performance celebrating China’s national day on Friday.Kin Cheung (AP)

The weight of the gaze of others is a kind of powerful atmospheric agent that helps shape the life of human beings. Sometimes for the better, inhibiting unworthy behaviors under the stimulus of avoiding the disapproval that they entail; others for the worse, inducing nonsensical contortions simply by seeking the approval of others. This has been the case since the dawn of time, but the technological age in which we live exacerbates the issue. Digital connectivity, social networks and other developments increase the exposure to the agent. In the light of day there is a voluntary exhibition – in search of attention and prominence – with a great parade of comments or images in forums of different kinds; In the dark – digitally, but not only – we are subjected to another type of gaze that infiltrates our privacy against our will. We may be a little too aware of the first, and too little of the second.

EU leaders met this week with US counterparts to launch the Trade and Technology Council, a logical initiative in the framework of trying to close ranks between liberal-democracies after the tear of the Trump era against authoritarian powers such as China. In rapprochement, however, the EU will do well to maintain healthy skepticism. Joe Biden’s rhetoric is much better, but not all the facts accompany it. It is notorious that the tech giants know almost everything about us (and want to know how little is left as well). The past, moreover, invites the utmost caution. The massive espionage of the government agency NSA cannot be forgotten, which through the back door collected all the data that it could unceremoniously. It takes a lifetime to build trust; little is enough to break it and, once broken, it is hard to believe again.

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But the EU and the Europeans will do well to raise their attention on the other side of Janus, the double-faced god of the doors that open to control: Beijing. In recent weeks some news has accumulated in that regard. The Lithuanian authorities have recommended that their citizens throw away their Chinese mobiles, denouncing having detected a remotely activatable censorship capability in a Xiaomi model, and security flaws in another Huawei model. The companies deny bad practices, and the gesture is part of the tense relations between Vilnius and Beijing for other reasons. But the alert should not be ignored, and it should be remembered that Xiaomi was the main mobile seller in Europe in the second quarter, according to data collected by the firm Strategy Analytics. Against the background of all this, the prospect of the installation of 5G infrastructure stands out.

Equally or more disturbing still is the suspicion that the gaze of others even fixes on our genetics. A remarkable Reuters investigation has put the spotlight on the activities of the Chinese genomics giant BGI. The company is a benchmark for prenatal tests to detect abnormalities in fetuses. More than eight million women in 50 countries – including a dozen in Europe – have turned to his services. Reuters shows that the genetic information collected is largely transferred to China, where the company manages a huge database – of fetuses and mothers – financed by the Chinese government; notes BGI’s close collaboration with the Chinese Armed Forces; contractual clauses by which the data collected can be shared with authorities if they are relevant for security or defense reasons. BGI claims that this has not happened and that it respects privacy regulations, but there are European authorities that are beginning to take a closer look at its activities. Nobody is aware that the collection of a large global genetic database can have great strategic utility in multiple research senses.

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The glances of others can bring out the best in oneself, as when the eyes of a loved one are observed observing us; paying too much attention to any looks does not seem beneficial; Not paying enough attention to glances that creep surreptitiously into the deepest intimacy doesn’t seem wise either.

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