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Google cuts off Huawei from Android ecosystem
Google decision follows an executive order signed by President Trump, but Huawei insists US businesses and consumers will be the real losers
Google has blocked Huawei from future updates to its Android mobile device operating system (OS), and chipmakers including Broadcom, Intel and Qualcomm are likely to follow suit, putting at risk huge parts of Huawei’s business, and threatening to throw the global technology supply chain into turmoil.
This comes in the wake of an executive order signed last week by US president Donald Trump, who declared a national emergency to protect American IT networks from what he termed foreign adversaries, “actively and increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology infrastructure and services”.
Huawei was not explicitly mentioned in the executive order, but there is little doubt that Huawei is one of its main targets, if not the main target, given the heightened controversy over the firm’s alleged ties to the Chinese intelligence services, something Huawei has always strenuously denied.
In coming to the decision to end its relationship with Huawei, Google said it was both “complying with the order and reviewing the implications”.
A Huawei spokesperson said: “Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with its open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefited both users and the industry.
“Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those have been sold or still in stock globally. We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally.”
Huawei had previously said that restricting it from doing business in the US would not make the country either more secure or strong, but would actually limit it to inferior and more expensive network alternatives, leaving it behind on 5G roll-out, and harming both businesses and consumers.
At a recent event at Huawei’s new campus in Shenzhen, which was attended by Computer Weekly as a guest of the firm, corporate senior vice president and director Catherine Chen told journalists that the US market was “just not that important” to Huawei.
“Last year, things went to a new extreme when we weren’t even allowed to sell our phones there. I think the people who suffer most are US consumers, not us,” she said.
What happens now?
Huawei has been steadily growing its smartphone business outside of China.
Posting on Twitter, IDC associate vice president Francisco Jeronimo said: “Huawei is leading the smartphone market in Europe and they were en route to become the largest smartphone maker by the end of the year…. However, without Google's support and services we may see a different picture.”
In terms of ramifications for owners of Huawei smartphones, as per the company’s statement, they will still be able to update apps and various Google Play services and patch their devices as normal. However, when the next version of Android hits the market it is likely it will not be made available to Huawei owners, who will also possibly lose access to Google apps such as Gmail, Google Play, Maps and YouTube.
Open source a way forward?
Huawei will still be able to use a version of Android available under an open source licence.
Fred Roeder, managing director of the Consumer Choice Centre, a consumer activism group based in Arlington, Virginia, said that outright bans on technology equipment based on country of origin should only be a last resort for governments, and suggested open source might actually be a good route forward. “Bans risk getting the global economy deeper into costly trade wars. Consumers benefit from competition and the fast rollout of new technologies such as 5G networks,” he said.
“At the same time, we are worried about vulnerabilities and potential backdoors in equipment and software. Closed systems have a much higher likelihood of hiding vulnerabilities. Hence more open systems and open source approaches can really help consumers, and governments, trust the security promises of 5G providers,” added Roeder.
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