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According to a Financial Times (FT) report, Google tried to make the case to the U.S. federal government that its recent ban against Huawei could force Huawei to come up with an alternative to Google's Android operating system (OS). Google reportedly argued that this sort of competition to its own OS would create a U.S. national security risk.
Google Defends Huawei (and Its Own Interests)
Google’s lobbyists have reportedly asked the officials from the U.S. Department of Commerce for an exemption from the Huawei ban, so that the Mountain View company could continue to collaborate with it. Google reportedly said that if it’s not given this special treatment, then the whole U.S. national security could be at risk, arguing that if Huawei can no longer use its own Android operating system, then the Chinese firm will build a “hybrid” version of the OS with its own modifications. Google warned that this hybrid version will likely contain more security bugs than Google’s OS.
The presumption is that Huawei is not as competent to secure its own OS as Google is. That argument may not be completely without merit, but in the grand scheme of things, existing Huawei phones will continue to receive Google updates for the next two months.
Plus, Huawei tends to abandon most device models (especially the lower-end ones) quickly and stop sending them updates. In other words, even if Google would continue to provide Huawei with updates for the existing phones for much longer than the two months, many of them wouldn’t get to end-users anyway. That means that Huawei’s phones would provide not much greater risk to national security than they already do.
It seems more likely that Google fears that an Android fork, just like Amazon’s Fire OS, would mean more competition.
Huawei Is Already a National Security Risk (for Different Reasons)
According to previous reports from the U.S. government, as well as more recent ones from the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, Huawei’s hardware and software already represents significant security risk, but not for the reasons Google laid out. Leaving aside the potential for Chinese government backdoors, about which the U.S. government has been warning everyone since at least last year, Huawei’s hardware and software products seem to lack the most basic of security safeguards.
Ian Levy, Technical Director of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, part of the GCHQ signals intelligence agency, recently said that despite Huawei’s promises to invest $2 billion in fixing its products security issues last year, it hasn’t begun to address them. Huawei has previously stated that it could take up to five years to fix the issues.
Britain’s National Security Council has already blocked telecommunications companies from using Huawei technology in the core parts of their network. Telecom companies are still allowed to purchase non-core network equipment from Huawei for now.
Facebook Bans Pre-Installation of Its Apps on Huawei Devices
While Google is defending Huawei, its data mining arch-rival, Facebook, is going in the opposite direction, banning Huawei from pre-installing the Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp apps on its devices, according to a Reuters report today.
What the Reuters report doesn’t mention is that this likely ended Facebook’s data sharing deal with Huawei, too. In previous reports we learned that Facebook is giving device makers access to the phone users’ data in exchange for pre-installing the applications on those devices. Huawei devices that already have Facebook’s apps pre-installed will continue to be functional.
Huawei declined to comment to Reuters, but it previously promised to work around any issues that may appear due to the U.S. government ban. Even so, customers at stores from Asia and Europe told Reuters that after the U.S. ban they’ve become reluctant to purchase any more Huawei devices.