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Your friendly Huawei at CES: Complete with uniformed security

For a company that some accuse of having connections to spying, is it the best move to place men in uniform at its CES booth?

3 min read
Here he is, watching out for miscreants -- and spies perhaps. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

LAS VEGAS--I've watched a few Bourne movies and read quite a bit of John Le Carre.

If I've learned anything -- a substantial if, of course -- it's that if someone accuses you of being a spy, it's best not to act paranoid.

The best spies are those whom you would never suspect of being anything but cheery, nice, and self-effacing.

It was with a little discomfort, therefore, that I found myself at Huawei's booth both yesterday and today.

It's not that the company's products don't look frightfully interesting. They look remarkably similar to frightfully interesting products from quite a few other companies.

But there was a gray-haired man wandering the booth who looked suspiciously formal.

He was wearing a logo that was not Huawei's. I could make out the words "Special Operations" on it.

Being of hardy soul, but naive head, I engaged him in a chat. He confirmed to me that Huawei had asked for extra security at the show.

Why? Because they have proprietary technology in their products and they don't want anyone to steal it.

"We already had BlackBerry here this morning," the security man told me.

I had been unaware that BlackBerry sends its employees out to trade conferences to rip phones from their moorings. I had always thought Canadians to be far more giving than rapacious. They give Americans safe harbor from all kinds of troubles. They give the world Justin Bieber. They take the occasional joke.

I had also always thought that the proprietariness of technology lasted several nanoseconds before someone copied it or paid an unfaithful employee for the information.

The security man, though, set me right. "If technology wasn't proprietary, no one would be able to make a profit."

Ah, so that's what the Apple-Samsung lawsuit was about? I see.

Huawei does have a tiny shadow about its image. Some believe that it might be spying -- you know, proprietarily -- for the Chinese government.

There seems currently to be no evidence of this.

But if you're trying to project a relatively new brand into the public ether, somehow uniformed security doesn't seem to be sending the most cuddly of messages.

It has a slight "police state" ring about it.

If it felt that additional security was in order, the least the company could have done is sent this nice gray-haired man out in plain clothes, to blend in with the curious, rather than hover over them.

Still, I wanted to be fair.

So I scoured the booths of its competitors to see whether they, too, had men or women in uniform to scare me off.

I saw none. So I ventured into Samsung's vast and beautiful arena, sidled up to the company's Kurt Kaczmar and asked him to direct me to his uniformed police.

He looked at me as if I'd swallowed something untoward.

Then he told me: "We secure our phones to the displays, but that's about it. If we've got security here, they must be in plain clothes."

In the interests of dedication, I went back to Huawei's booth this morning, to see whether the paranoia might have died down.

I can happily report that I didn't see a single uniformed security man.

I saw two.