Whether or not you believe Huawei is using its technology to spy on us is entirely up to you. There are articles online which can make a good case that they’re definitely not, but there are just as many articles which make just as a compelling a case to say they are. The average civilian will almost certainly never see the evidence which is being used to accuse them of the crime, and therefore we’ll probably no for sure. The question now, given all the damage that’s been done to their brand by the accusation, is whether there’s any way back for them?
Being accused of a significant crime does damage to a company’s standing, but with the right approach to public relations, there’s usually a way through it. If all that had happened to Huawei were the accusation, they would probably be fine. What might prove to be a fatal blow for them – or at least, a fatal blow for their operations outside their home country – is the decision of Google to stop supporting their hardware with Android updates.
Loss Of Confidence
When the public feels loyal to a brand, they’ll be prepared to carry on using them so long as they can justify a decision. Everybody knows that McDonald’s is bad for you, for example, but it doesn’t stop the millions of people who eat there every day from doing so. Even if Huawei owners vaguely knew that something wasn’t right, they were still happy to use the phones. If the American Farm Bureau Federation deemed McDonald’s to be too big a health risk to be allowed to buy meat from American farmers, though, customers might think again. The same is true of Google deciding to follow advice (albeit with a heavy nudge from the law) and declare that Huawei can’t be trusted. That tells the customer base that the accusations are credible, and so they start to assume the worst.
In this scenario, the odds of something specifically happening to a single customer or their device no longer matter. Customers assess risk the same way that online slots players assess rewards when they’re putting money into slot games – they just do it the other way around. A slots player knows that there’s only a fractional chance of hitting the jackpot every time they spin the reels, and so their strategy is to keep in spinning until the money comes out the other end of the slot. A security conscious phone user is therefore aware that even if the odds of their device being hacked or spied on are only one in a hundred, it could still happen, and it’s not worth the risk. The slots game player knows the odds are against them, but can be overcome with dedication. The Huawei phone user knows that if there’s a 1/100 chance of being monitored every time they switch their phone on, then that day will arrive eventually.
For their part, Huawei isn’t throwing the towel in just yet. They still hope that they’ll eventually be removed from the blacklist they currently find themselves on, and believe that they’re paying the price for the current trade row between the United States of America and China. Once that situation is normalized, they’re optimistic they’ll be back on the list of approved firms. That doesn’t, however, obligate Google to start working with them again. The decision to do so would be down to Google themselves – who might just decide that removal of Android services from a major rival’s smartphone may be just the shot in the arm that sales of their Google Pixel phones needed.
The Chinese company aren’t putting all their eggs in one basket, though. There’s another route open to them, and that’s to completely code and install their own operating software from scratch. That sounds like an enormous undertaking – and it is – but they’re already a long way into the process of building something they refer to as ‘Project Z.’ It’s been years since operating systems other than iOS and Android were commonplace on phones, but there was a time when each manufacturer provided their own software – it’s only the proliferation of homogenized apps which reduced the field down to two. And it’s homogenized apps which may prove to be the undoing of Huawei’s proposed new firmware before it sees the light of day.
Even if Huawei is capable of producing the necessary software – and it would be safe to assume that they are- the software will be useless to the public at large if they can’t install their favorite apps on it. For the software to be worthwhile, Huawei would need Facebook to make specific versions of the Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp apps for them. Every major app you can think of would need to be coded again to work on the new Huawei devices. It’s a lot to ask of companies who already have to make everything in duplicate. They’d likely only agree to do so if Huawei could offer them the guarantee of millions of downloads – and to do that, Huawei would have to sell millions of phones. That leaves us in a Catch 22 situation – it’s unlikely that Huawei will be able to sell millions of phones if it’s unable to guarantee its customers that they’ll be able to use them for all the same things they can do with their current handset.
To answer the question we posed at the start of the article – are Huawei about to die – we suspect not. Unless there’s a significant change in the way that the company is viewed by the United States of America, though, it’s difficult to see a way for them to survive in the Western world, and so we suspect they’ll eventually retreat back to China and serve people within their own domestic region. That would be a disappointing end for a company who energized the technology scene when they burst onto it a few short years ago; but then if the spying accusations are true, perhaps it’s what they deserve.