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Google says ban on Huawei creates U.S. national security risks

Google says ban on Huawei creates U.S. national security risks
Washington has been concerned for years that telecommunication equipment sold by Huawei could be used by the Chinese government for hacking. (Kith Serey / EPA/Shutterstock)

Google has warned the Trump administration that pushing ahead with sweeping export restrictions on Huawei would risk compromising U.S. national security, as the American technology giant seeks to continue doing business with the blacklisted Chinese tech titan.

Senior executives at Google are pushing U.S. officials to exempt it from a ban on exports to Huawei without a license approved by Washington, according to three people briefed on the conversations.

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The Trump administration announced the ban after the U.S.-China trade talks collapsed, prompting protests from some of the biggest U.S. technology companies that fear they could get hurt in the fallout.

Google in particular is concerned it would not be allowed to update its Android operating system on Huawei’s smartphones. It argues that such a ban would prompt the Chinese company to develop its own version of the software.

Google argues that a Huawei-modified version of Android would be more susceptible to being hacked, according to people briefed on its lobbying efforts. Huawei has said it would be able to develop its own operating system “very quickly.”

One person with knowledge of the conversations said, “Google has been arguing that by stopping it from dealing with Huawei, the U.S. risks creating two kinds of Android operating system: the genuine version and a hybrid one. The hybrid one is likely to have more bugs in it than the Google one, and so could put Huawei phones more at risk of being hacked, not least by China.”

Washington has been concerned for years that telecommunication equipment sold by Huawei could be used by the Chinese government for hacking. But since President Trump took office, these concerns have come to the forefront.

Last month, the Trump administration announced a fresh set of measures targeting the Chinese company. They include giving the Commerce Department the power to ban Huawei from selling 5G equipment in the United States, as well as a blanket ban on U.S. companies selling their products to the Chinese group.

After the ban was imposed, Google suspended business with Huawei, cutting Huawei off from potential updates to Android. Since then, however, the administration has granted a 90-day reprieve for companies to adjust.

In the last few weeks, senior Google executives have approached the Commerce Department asking either for another extension or to be exempted from the ban altogether, according to those briefed on the conversations. In doing so, it has joined groups representing major U.S. microchip makers such as Qualcomm Inc., which are also worried about the ban’s effect on their business.

A Commerce Department official said the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security routinely responded to “inquiries from companies regarding the scope of regulatory requirements” in order to “ensure private industry compliance” with export controls.

“This is not new to this administration, nor do these discussions influence law enforcement actions,” the person said. “The highest priority of the department and [Bureau of Industry and Security] remains the protection of our nation’s security.”

Google said: “Like other U.S. companies, we’re engaging with the Department of Commerce to ensure we’re in full compliance with its requirements and temporary licence. Our focus is protecting the security of Google users on the millions of existing Huawei handsets in the U.S. and around the world.”

© The Financial Times Limited 2019. All Rights Reserved. FT and Financial Times are trademarks of the Financial Times Ltd. Not to be redistributed, copied or modified in any way.

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