When shopping for computers, smartphones and appliances (yes, even items like washing machines have gone digital), most Americans will only consider brands they know—or think they know. But some products branded as proudly American-made may actually support the United States’ biggest adversary, China, and put buyers’ personal information at risk.
Watch below: Roslyn Layton’s Guide on Companies to Avoid this Holiday Season
As we continue our cyber week series on brands to avoid this holiday season, today we look at the popular home appliance maker, GE Appliances.
GE Appliances is a name that was once synonymous with American made. But the homeware maker was purchased by Chinese conglomerate Haier in 2016, which gave the multi-national about 15% of the U.S. appliance market.
The company now runs Chinese software in many of its products, like microwaves, washers and dryers, and refrigerators. Its chairman, Zhang Ruimin, a delegate to the Chinese Communist Party, said he plans to connect as many American households to Chinese software as possible.
Those plug-ins may provide Haier with a window into buyers’ personal information. It’s well known that the Chinese government is building databases on U.S. citizens, which can be used for nefarious purposes, like disinformation campaigns. A 2017 law requires all Chinese companies to support the government’s intelligence efforts, which include spying on Americans.
Unlike the United States, there is little distinctions between China’s government, military and private sector. It’s unclear where Haier, and GE Appliances, fall on the spectrum. “The ownership of the Haier Group is ambiguous,” says Marshall Meyer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
More families working and learning from home has pushed U.S. spending on electronics to record highs this year. PC sales jumped nearly 13% in the third quarter, the highest growth in a decade, and spending on consumer technology is expected to exceed $135 billion over the holidays.
With spending up, consumers should be extra vigilant that their purchases are not supporting China’s bad actors and exposing sensitive information.