Illustration by Alex Castro
Following the US crackdown on Chinese technology companies, Google has cut off Huawei’s Android license, dealing a huge blow to the besieged phonemaker. Reuters first reported the news, and The Verge subsequently confirmed Google’s suspension of business with Huawei with a source familiar with the matter.
Reached for comment, a Google spokesperson said only “We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications.” The order, in this case, appears to be the US Commerce Department’s recent decision to place Huawei on the “Entity List,” which as Reuters reports is a list of companies that are unable to buy technology from US companies without government approval.
Speaking to Reuters, a Google spokesperson confirmed that “Google Play and the security protections from Google Play Protect will continue to function on existing Huawei devices.” So while existing Huawei phones around the world won’t be immediately impacted by the decision, the future of updates for those phones as well as any new phones Huawei would produce remains in question.
Huawei is now restricted to using the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), cutting the company off from critical Google apps and services that consumers outside of China expect on Android devices. That also means Huawei will only be able to push security updates for Android once they’re made available in AOSP, assuming the company uses its own update system. It’s not clear yet how this will affect the full range of Android integrations that Huawei depends on, but we will update this story when we receive additional clarification about the impacts of Google’s decision.
Huawei has been under increasing pressure from President Trump and the US government over fears that its equipment could be used by the Chinese government to spy on American networks. These fears have been under construction for a long time; In 2018, US intelligence agencies warned against using Huawei and ZTE devices, and US politicians have described Huawei as “effectively an arm of the Chinese government.”
Huawei maintains that it is not possible for the Chinese government to poison its equipment with backdoors, and it has remained optimistic about the future of its business. But this latest setback from Google poses a grave risk to the future of Huawei’s core mobile business. The company was already preparing its own operating systems in the event of being banned from using Android and Windows, but given US fears about foreign interference, a home-grown OS is likely to face even more scrutiny than Google’s software.