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Cutting Huawei off from Android is a national security risk, Google tells US: Report

Google has warned that the US risks compromising national security if it moves ahead with a sweeping ban on Huawei, the Financial Times reported (paywall) on Thursday. Meanwhile, in a fresh blow to Huawei, Facebook said that it would no longer allow the company to pre-install Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram on its phones, Reuters reported.

These developments come less than three weeks after Google pulled Huawei’s Android licence on May 20, just days after the US government added the Chinese firm to its so-called Entity List (for national security reasons, ironically) which prevented it from buying components from US companies without prior government approval. Google’s decision was a huge blow to Huawei as it meant the company would lose access to Google’s proprietary apps and services such as the Play Store, Gmail and YouTube – though it could continue to use AOSP, the open-source version of Android.

Google fears Huawei-modified version of Android

While the US sanctions are expected to hurt Huawei in the short-term, in the long-term, it could undermine American dominance in the sector by forcing Huawei and other Chinese firms to become more self-reliant, industry experts told Reuters. Google is worried that it would not be allowed to update its Android operating system on Huawei smartphones, thereby prompting the Chinese company to develop its own version of the mobile OS, which could pose a bigger threat to Android in the coming years, the FT report said, citing unnamed sources. Google argued that a version of Android developed by Huawei would be more vulnerable to hackers. It’s worth noting that Google believes Huawei’s short-term replacement OS will be a modified version of Android and not its homegrown operating system, internally known as Project Z, which is “far from ready”, as per 9to5Google.

Google had said earlier that it would stop providing Android software for Huawei phones in August, after a 90-day reprieve granted by the US government expires. The Facebook ban, however, applies to any Huawei phone that has not yet left the factory, the Reuters report said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

What is the Entity List?

The US Commerce Department website says that its Entity List is part of its Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and comprises “certain foreign persons – including businesses, research institutions, government and private organisations, individuals, and other types of legal persons – that are subject to specific license requirements for the export, re-export and/or transfer (in-country) of specified items”.

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The list specifies the license requirements that it imposes on each listed person or organisation. It says that these parties “present a greater risk of diversion to weapons of mass destruction programs, terrorism, or other activities contrary to US national security and/or foreign policy interests”. The department’s Bureau of Industry and Security can add a foreign party to the Entity List for engaging in activities contrary to US national security and/or foreign policy interests. The website reads, “In most instances, license exceptions are unavailable for the export, reexport, or transfer (in-country) to a party on the Entity List of items subject to the EAR. Rather, prior license authorisation is required, usually subject to a policy of denial.”

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