Google has warned the Trump administration it risks compromising US national security if it pushes ahead with sweeping export restrictions on Huawei, as the technology group seeks to continue doing business with the blacklisted Chinese company.
Senior executives at Google are pushing US officials to exempt it from a ban on exports to Huawei without a licence approved by Washington, according to three people briefed on the conversations.
The Trump administration announced the ban after the US-China trade talks collapsed, prompting protests from some of the biggest US technology companies who 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, which it argues would prompt the Chinese company to develop its own version of the software.
Google argues 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 US 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 telecoms equipment sold by Huawei could be used by Beijing for hacking. But since Donald Trump entered office, these concerns have come to the fore.
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 US, as well as a blanket ban on American companies selling their products to the Chinese group.
After the ban was imposed, Google suspended business with Huawei, cutting it off from potential updates to Android. Since then, however, the administration has granted a 90-day reprieve for companies to adjust.
In the past 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 US microchip makers such as Qualcomm, who are also worried about the impact the ban will have on their business.
A commerce department official said its 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 BIS remains the protection of our nation’s security.”
Google said: “Like other US 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 US and around the world.”