IBM may just have rankled several Silicon Valley companies and the Obama administration by allowing the Chinese government to take a peek into its software's source code, the proprietary technology considered to be the "secret sauce" in every tech firm's product.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Big Blue has revealed its source code, intellectual property considered highly guarded trade secrets by tech companies, to officials of the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in a highly controlled environment where it is impossible for Chinese officials to take the code out of the room and inspect it without IBM's supervision.
The Journal's sources claim this is the first time IBM has taken such a measure in an attempt to secure for itself a considerable piece of the Chinese tech market. However, it's still unclear what products the Chinese officials were allowed to view.
The demos are reportedly done inside a secure room without an Internet connection, where China's IT experts view the source code on an IBM security application to prevent other people from poaching the company's IP. Moreover, the demos are done only for a few hours, keeping anyone from thoroughly going through the code to find back doors that may have been implanted to allow the U.S. government to secretly infiltrate the system, suggesting that the demos are highly symbolic more than anything else.
"Strict procedures are in place within these technology demonstration centers to ensure that no software source code is released, copied or altered in any way," an IBM spokesperson tells the Journal.
On Thursday, Chinese media reported that IBM Senior Vice President Steve Mills revealed the source code demonstrations to the public, pointing out that the company needs the support of the Chinese administration if it plans to continue its growth in the country.
Even before Edward Snowden's revelations about the National Security Agency's spying programs on foreign governments through the use of back doors implanted in tech firms' products, China had already been pressuring U.S. tech companies to reveal their source codes. In the wake of Snowden's leaks, however, the Chinese government has stepped up its efforts to crack down on any attempts to infiltrate its network. With the backing of the Obama administration, most Silicon Valley players have done their best to push back, but IBM says it is not the first company to enter such an agreement with a foreign government. In fact, Microsoft has struck a similar agreement to allow Chinese, Russian and U.K. experts to view the Windows source code in 2003.
If the Chinese government hands it its blessing, IBM will start offering its Bluemix cloud computing platform in China in partnership with 21Vianet Group, the same company that offers Microsoft's services in the country.