Google denies the Chinese IT giant Huawei access to Google's proprietary components of the Android mobile operating system which threatens IT security. This highlights the importance Free Software has for technology users, public bodies, and businesses. The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) presents three essential lessons from this case.
Following the U.S. administration's decision to effectively ban American companies from trading with with the Chinese company Huawei, Google suspended all business with the company. This affects all software which is not covered under Free Software licences. In practice, Huawei's upcoming and potentially also current phones will no longer get support and updates for the Android operating system. They will also not have access to the proprietary Google apps and services like Gmail and Google Play. Although proprietary software should be avoided in the first place, especially the latter will put future Huawei users at risk because without access to the default app store on most stock Android phones they will miss important security updates for the apps installed through it.
Google offers only a base version of Android under a Free Software licence but bundles it together with proprietary apps and services. The non-free components of most stock Android devices have numerous downsides for users, as the FSFE has documented since 2012. Now, the current case demonstrates that even tech giants like Huawei face similar dependencies and vendor lock-in effects as those of any individual users if they rely on proprietary software.
The following lessons can be drawn from this case:
The earlier allegations against Huawei already showed that code for all critical infrastructure should be published under a Free Software licence. The latest episode of the Huawei affair illustrates that the same applies to apps and services. Just days before the European Elections, this should be a wake-up call for the next constituent Parliament to ask the European Commission for European directives that foster independence of European technical infrastructure and that build on Free Software, starting with the demand to release publicly funded software as public code.