Why can’t Americans buy the best Android phone of 2018? Scaremongers

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In 2011, U.S. customs seized and presumably destroyed 60,000 Kinder Surprise eggs — a hollow chocolate egg with a capsule inside containing a toy. Why? The Food and Drug Administration banned the eggs for fear that over-eager children may scoff the chocolate egg and toy down in one go, thus choking on the plastic parts.

“These chocolate treats may be cute and seasonal but they are too dangerous to children to be imported legally into the United States,” the Customs and Border Protection website read at the time.

There’s no evidence Huawei products are a security threat.

Then it was candy. Today it’s phones. While Huawei phones are not yet banned, Americans are now being told these devices are a threat to national security, giving the impression that simply by owning one, all our personal and private information is being monitored and presumably stored or stolen by a clandestine operation on another continent. No-one wants that, in the same way we don’t want little kids choking on a miniature plastic toys.

But there’s no evidence Huawei products are a security threat. Like the original Kinder Surprise, Huawei phones are sold all over the world (almost) without incident. As scaremongers keep the P20 out of U.S. stores, Americans are missing out on one of the best Android phones available. And that’s shame, even if you don’t want one.

One less option

There are plenty of smartphones to buy. Spend over $500 and it’s almost assured that it’ll be good. Great, even. So why cry over a phone from a brand you don’t really know? It’s simple: Choice. Having more choice is excellent for us, because it pushes companies to give us better prices and make even better devices in the future, because they’re having to work harder to earn our support.

samsung galaxy s8 plus vs iphone 7

Shutting out a manufacturer lessens that choice. Apple and Samsung must be chuckling away, because thanks to political and business machinations, they’ve not had to fight a newcomer. The Huawei P20 Pro isn’t a perfect phone, but it’s easily as good as any other phone released in the past year. Its camera is better than any other, and right now it’s our favorite Android phone of 2018. It’s absolutely worth your money. Like the Kinder Surprise, it’s inviting, fun, and you can’t buy one.

Won’t someone think about the security?

You may be thinking, “I trust these people saying Huawei and ZTE phones, services, and infrastructure equipment are a potential security risk.” It’s a fair point, and inviting trouble wouldn’t be sensible at all. You can read all about Huawei’s denial of any government involvement and how it’s privately owned — not by the state — on its site here, but is there any truth to the accusations?

“All devices have some level of risk, which varies from device to device and manufacturer to manufacturer”

Andrew Blaich, head of device intelligence at mobile security firm, Lookout, told Digital Trends there are three factors at play:

“First, speculation fueled by fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Second, insider knowledge of something known, but the information cannot be revealed at this time. Third, a general guidance to minimize any possible risk in the future based on geopolitics or other factors.”

Is there any truth to Huawei hardware having backdoors that would allow governments to spy in its users? “As of now, there is no publicly available evidence that this has happened,” he said.

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Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Additionally, Blaich said it’s unfair to single out Huawei, adding, “All devices have some level of risk, which varies from device to device and manufacturer to manufacturer, all depending on the companies, developers, agencies, technology pipeline, app stores, or network operators involved.”

Building trust

Does that mean we should just accept the risk? No, of course not, so how about looking at Huawei’s relationship with the United Kingdom as a model for keeping everyone happy?

Huawei set up the the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre in 2010 with the U.K. intelligence agency, GCHQ.

Huawei is a major supplier of network infrastructure in the U.K., and its phones are available through all the big-name carriers with or without a contract. It has a 13 percent market share, according to Counterpoint research, behind Apple and Samsung. To help assuage concerns over security, Huawei set up the the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) in 2010 with the U.K. intelligence agency, GCHQ. In it, phones and network equipment are tested by Huawei employees, extensively vetted by the U.K. government, and everything is reported to the CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre, which is a part of the GCHQ itself.

“The Oversight Board concludes that in the year 2016-17, HCSEC fulfilled its obligations in respect of the provision of assurance that any risks to U.K. national security from Huawei’s involvement in the U.K.’s critical networks have been sufficiently mitigated,” reads the HCSEC 2017 annual report.

Huawei works with the U.K. government in a sensible way to reduce fears. The result is more phones on sale, and a stronger, faster, more robust network on which they operate.

Losing out

Huawei didn’t become the world’s third largest phone maker and the largest supplier of telecoms equipment by not adapting. It’s conscious of China’s poor record when it comes to espionage, and it knows it needs to do all it can to convince governments and companies it’s not a threat.

Its success has come with a limited amount of exposure in the U.S. But it’s a business, and selling phones and equipment in America means more profit, and a greater chance to become the world’s number one phone manufacturer — a repeatedly-stated company goal.

huawei p20 pro security scaremongering manufacturing facility

American phone buyers aren’t just missing out on the P20 Pro; but also Huawei’s investment and expertise in 5G network equipment. The Wall Street Journal reported Washington is consumed with the idea that China will have wider 5G connectivity before the U.S., and wants to do nothing to assist in its technological advancement. It’s a closed-minded approach that may see consumers suffer once again, and place more control in the hands of officials and carriers.

The barrier has resulted in Huawei deciding to leave the U.S. to get on without it for now. Current Huawei CEO Eric Xu said he “couldn’t explain” what was going on between China and the U.S., and that it was “beyond him.” Instead, Huawei will focus on the places where it’s already seeing success. And who can blame it?

Don’t just shrug your shoulders

That’s it. No P20 Pro for you. But if you want one, what can you do? Write to government representatives. Write to networks. How about going into AT&T, Verizon, or Best Buy stores and asking for the Huawei P20 Pro? If enough people tell them, it’ll get back to management. Or, why not import one and really thumb your nose at the establishment? It’s not a choking hazard, so customs won’t seize it. Alternatively, you could always not buy a phone through AT&T or Verizon next time, and choose an unlocked Google Pixel 2 instead.

Why not import one and really thumb your nose at the establishment?

Don’t think this will make a difference? If 60,000 Kinder Surprise eggs were stopped at the border, imagine how many slipped through. This, and a subtle change in packaging by Kinder, resulted in the considerably more throat-friendly Kinder Joy being sold in American stores by 2017. If we’re proactive enough, and refuse to take scaremongering at face value without evidence, perhaps Huawei’s next phone (which will have 5G, by the way) and the network equipment it connects to will be vetted by a government-backed operation in the U.S., to make sure no one is listening in.

More choice means we all win, remember?

Opinion pieces represent the views of their individual authors, and not Digital Trends.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


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