Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse for Huawei, reports have emerged that the company may soon not be able to sell phones with the world’s most popular social networks. Facebook will reportedly no longer allow the Chinese telecom giant to preinstall Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram apps on its devices.
According to Reuters, if you already have a Huawei phone you should be able to continue receiving updates to Facebook-owned apps. The change will only affect new phones. Facebook and Huawei did not respond to requests for comment.
Facebook’s decision is the latest fallout from the US government’s decision last month to add Huawei to a list of companies that, due to national security concerns, must get permission to buy US-made technology, including software. US companies are now refusing to sell microchips and other components to Huawei. Google has revoked licenses for Huawei to install its software, such as the Google Play app store and Gmail, on its phones.
Huawei, the second-largest maker of smartphones worldwide according to IDC, is still allowed to use the freely available, open source version of the Android operating system on its new phones. Users of those phones should still be able to access Facebook through the web and install WhatsApp by downloading the app directly from the WhatsApp website. Installers for other apps, such as Facebook Messenger and Instagram, are also available from third parties on the web. But without official support from companies like Google and Facebook, it’s possible that some apps might not work as expected.
In China, where Facebook and Google are banned and alternatives like the search engine Baidu and the messaging app WeChat dominate, that might not be a big deal. But for users in other countries, such as Europe, the lack of popular US-owned applications could make Huawei phones less attractive.
The US has long worried that Huawei could use its telecom equipment to spy for the Chinese government. Huawei denies that it has ever, or would ever, spy on its customers and is suing the US government over a law banning government agencies from doing business with companies that use technology from Huawei and ZTE. Huawei has also argued that Chinese law does not require it to spy for the Chinese government, though legal scholars aren’t convinced by the company’s logic.
Some non-US companies, including UK chipmaker Arm, are cutting ties with Huawei because some of their technology is developed in the US. Analysts say the company has stockpiles of chips, and Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei said in a media statement last month that it will be able to make its own chips to replace those of US chipmakers. Indeed, the US sanctions give Chinese companies all the more reason to stop relying on foreign-made technologies. But it could take years for Huawei and other Chinese companies to divorce themselves from US suppliers.