Huawei's mobile AI technology is key to its GDPR preparations

Having already curbed the iPhone’s momentum in China, Huawei is now the world’s number three smartphone brand

With one in seven companies still unprepared for GDPR, Huawei is in the enviable position of having a “three pillar” plan to safeguard itself ahead of the May deadline.

The Chinese electronics giant not only wants to be compliant but to to set a new standard for how things should be done, according to the company’s chief marketing officer for Western Europe, Andrew Garrihy.

The multi-pronged strategy covers three specific areas: design processes, business operations and, crucially, its hardware.

Having already curbed the iPhone’s momentum in China, Huawei is now the world’s number three smartphone brand behind Apple and Samsung with an 8.3% market share according to Gartner data.

Over the past year it has had its sights firmly set on gaining more traction in Europe, upping its core marketing staff count from five to 35 and moving the team’s HQ to London from Dusseldorf in what Garrihy has described as a “rapid growth journey”.

Intelligent machines

Despite its mission to claim the big boys’ crowns, Huawei has not let preparation for GDPR - which comes into force on 25 May 2018 - fall to the wayside.

Fines of €20m, or up to 4% of global revenues, have been threatened for non-compliance, but a recent study from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) found that just 15% of marketers believed their businesses are on track with GDPR, and a further 17% are falling behind their current preparations; with the latter figure up from 11% six month previous.

So, as part of its arsenal in the fight to keep both consumers and regulators happy Huawei is building mobile AI processing units into its devices.

It launched the tech for the first time last month with to coincide with the debut of its Mate10 flagship device – a product it's touting as an "intelligent machine," rather than a simple smartphone.

Essentially, the addition of the technology means that each smartphone has a custom-built Huawei processing unit baked into it; so actions that would have previously been processed ‘in the cloud’ are instead done on-device.

At the size of a thumbnail, the chip improves the user experience and supports AI capabilities like voice interaction and image recognition, but in time Garrihy hints it could come to be a tool which helps consumers control where their own data ends up.

“That’s very different and very important because in the past all AI has been in the cloud which [in turn] means the transfer of really personal data to the cloud," he explained.

“Mobile AI puts us in a position where we can do a lot of the AI computing and intelligence in the device. That means really sensitive and personal data won’t need to go to the cloud anymore.”

Apple’s forthcoming iPhone X also has an AI chip, and experts have mused that it will likely be the case for all flagship handsets next year. Garrihy’s admission that the implementation of the technology fits into the brand’s European GDPR strategy points to just how significant mobile AI will come to be as smartphone makers gear up for the changes GDPR will usher in.

For now, a campaign promoting the Mate10's mobile AI capabilities is centered around how it improves efficiency for users. The electronics brand has no immediate plans to emphasise the privacy benefits to consumers in the lead up to the GDPR directive coming into force, but that may change in time.

"Our mobile AI platform is an open developer platform, as the product launches you'll see more apps developed specifically to work alongside on-device AI and as they come onboard, then [the brand] will talk about it more and more," he said.

Privacy by design

Aside from its hardware, Huawei is taking other steps to get ready for GDPR. It has a centralised European marketing team spearheading the efforts, but also dedicated market teams implementing the practices.

One of the other areas Huawei is focusing on when it comes to GDPR is "privacy by design," ie baking security and privacy into its services before they go to market.

"It’s not an afterthought, we actually build it into our design process. It runs end-to-end throughout our entire business, so not just the devices but actually how data is captured and stored, it’s core to our design process."

Operational matters are the third and final prong in the company's GDPR plan.

"We have a number of initiatives in the business; we’ve adopted the privacy impact assessment framework that was published by the EU in 2012."

The firms chief executive and deputy chairman, Hu Houkun also heads up the User Privacy Protection Committee.

"At a design level an operational level, and a device level we’re really taking this seriously to make sure that we’re not only compliant but set a new standard for this," Garrihy concluded.

Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

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