- Congress is reviewing a Google-Huawei partnership to see if it should be concerned regarding the U.S.-China trade war.
- However, the partnership revolves around RCS messaging, which likely doesn’t pose any kind of threat.
- It’s likely that Congress is basing its concern on the recent Facebook scandal, and not the actual information at hand.
The trade war between the United States and China is continuing to heat up, but it’s also getting incredibly confusing. One begins to wonder if the people waging the trade war actually understand the technologies and partnerships they are trying to stifle.
For example, we learned today via The Wall Street Journal that Congress is concerned about a partnership between Google and Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei. No charges have been filed as of yet, but according to the WSJ, members of Congress have started to “review” Google’s association with Huawei.
However, Google’s partnership with Huawei revolves around Google’s ambitious plan to bring the RCS messaging platform to smartphones and wireless carriers. The partnership between Google and Huawei is likely no different than Google’s RCS partnerships with any other device manufacturer.
This investigation into Google comes hot on the heels of the exposure of Facebook’s secret deals with smartphone manufacturers – including Huawei – that gave OEMs access to Facebook user data. Regrettably, Congress is probably basing its scrutiny on Google’s RCS messaging ambitions on a completely unrelated scandal involving Facebook.
We’ve written a lot about RCS messaging here at Android Authority, but here’s a brief refresher.
Google wants to replace SMS and MMS technology with the more modern rich communication services (RCS) technology. RCS messaging is better than SMS/MMS in that it offers quicker, larger file-size transfers, geolocation exchange, social presence information, and more. It primarily will make texting a lot more like using an instant messenger platform such as Facebook Messenger.
The only problem with RCS is that for it to truly replace the current SMS/MMS experience, every smartphone manufacturer and wireless carrier needs to be on board and using the same protocols. For years now, that has been a nearly-impossible task, but Google is determined to unite the industry using the aforementioned Chat system.
That’s why there’s a Huawei deal
If Google ever expects to get Chat off the ground, it needs everyone on board. Huawei is the world’s third-largest smartphone manufacturer, so it clearly needs to have a partnership with Huawei if Chat is ever going to become the norm.
While we haven’t seen the partnership contract for ourselves, we know from the WSJ report and previous reporting here at AA that it involves pre-loading Android Messages onto Huawei devices. This makes perfect sense, as Google already has Chat capabilities built-in to Android Messages which would then make Huawei devices RCS-capable.
What is Huawei getting out of this partnership? That we don’t know, but it’s highly unlikely that Google is offering up user data to a device manufacturer. What would Huawei do with the user data? Huawei makes and sells physical technology; it doesn’t make the bulk of its money off its user base like Google does.
The only other concern would be backdoor spying, i.e., using the information transmitted through Android Messages against the American people in some way. But why would Google do that? What possible incentive would Google have in allowing a foreign power to spy on its own country, simply to make texting a better experience? That makes no sense.
How is this different from the Facebook scandal?
The recent Facebook scandal surrounding OEM partnerships is much, much different than Google’s partnerships surrounding RCS messaging. The Facebook partnerships gave OEMs access to Facebook user data at a time when smartphone technology was essentially in its infancy; we’re talking over ten years ago in some cases.
Back then, Facebook wanted a presence on mobile devices, but mobile devices of that time were not advanced enough to run a full Facebook app. So Facebook partnered with OEMs and gave them access to Facebook features, which added value to the user experience.
The only issue with these partnerships is that it also gave the companies access to user data, which Facebook took into consideration by filling the contracts with restrictions on the access to that data. There is no proof that any OEM used or abused their access to Facebook user data.
The real issue with the most recent Facebook scandal is the fact that Mark Zuckerberg didn’t mention any of this at the Congressional hearing surrounding the Cambridge Analytica scandal. He said that Facebook users have complete control over their data and that third-parties can’t access it without their permission. But those statements are not entirely accurate, because some of these OEM partnerships still exist.
In other words, these Facebook contracts are not the problem; the problem is that no one knew about them until The New York Times exposed the information.
But China! What are we going to do about China?
It’s clear that President Trump and other members of the U.S. government want to prevent China from attaining even more power over the world’s technology. You might agree with that goal, or you might not. But the critical thing to note here is that Google partnering with Huawei to get RCS messaging on smartphones has nothing to do with Chinese tech dominance.
All Google wants is to make texting on Android devices a similar experience to texting on iPhones. In order to do that, it needs everyone to play ball.
If Congress is going to waste time investigating Google’s RCS partnership with Huawei, it’s going to have to do the same for all the other Chinese OEMs Google wants on board, like Xiaomi, Oppo, and even ZTE.
But if Congress actually took the time to learn what these deals are all about, it would realize that this is the least of their problems.
To be clear, I’m not saying that big tech doesn’t need oversight – it clearly does, as we saw with Google’s thankfully-aborted AI military contract. But RCS messaging partnerships? I think we have bigger fish to fry.