09:30 GMT23 January 2021
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    The Chinese company Huawei and Google were reportedly working on a new smart speaker just before President Donald Trump restricted Huawei’s access to US tech suppliers in a sign that the companies had a closer relationship than previously understood

    Republicans senators Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), and Josh Hawley (Mo.) have demanded a response from Google about its possible collaboration with Chinese tech company Huawei to develop a smart speaker that would be able to listen to users.

    In a letter addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the senators referred to a recent report by The Information citing sources familiar with the situation that the companies were reportedly working on a Huawei-branded smart speaker before US President Donald Trump slapped restrictions on the Chinese company’s access to US technology.

    “The devices can enable untrustworthy companies to listen in on Americans’ conversations. It is hard to interpret your decision to help Huawei place listening devices in millions of American homes as anything other than putting profits before country,” the senators write in the letter.

    The senators also claimed measures that Google allegedly took to advance business in China “appeared designed to gain favour with the Chinese Communist Party.”

    The cited actions, according to the senators, included Google working with the Chinese military, helping create a censorship-tailored search engine for China and opening an artificial intelligence centre in Beijing.

    "Your attempts three weeks ago to downplay your involvement in China, plus new revelations about your close relationship with Huawei, raise serious questions," write the senators.

    The senators asked Pichai to answer a set of questions by August 30. They seek information as to why Google entered a collaboration with Huawei in the first place to create the smart speakers, what it learned about finding national security vulnerabilities with listening devices while working with Huawei, what steps were taken to eliminate these risks, and if the company plans to resume work with the Chinese tech firm after the blacklisting is lifted.

    “Huawei poses serious concerns about national security,” the senators added. “The oppressive Chinese Communist Party exercises enormous influence over the company. Huawei has even admitted that it hosts a branch of the party within the company itself.”

    A spokesperson for Google responded by telling The Hill that "we have no smart speakers in development with Huawei and will always prioritise privacy and security.” Huawei has not commented on the reported claims.

    US Wants to Formally Ban Huawei From Gov't Contracts

    On Wednesday a senior administration official told CNBC that the Trump administration is expected to release a rule that bans agencies from directly purchasing telecom, video surveillance equipment or services from Huawei, as part of a broader defence bill signed into law last year.

    The new rule will apply not only to Huawei, but also a list of other telecom companies that have aroused security concerns, such as ZTE and Hikvision.

    The law also sets a deadline of August 2020 for a broader ban on federal contractors doing business with Huawei or the covered firms, with contractors potentially allowed to seek waivers from individual federal agencies if they do not believe their interaction with the companies poses a security threat.

    In July US President Donald Trump suggested that there could be specific national security issues in US tech giant Google's relationship with China, vowing to look into the matter.

    "There may or may not be National Security concerns with regard to Google and their relationship with China. If there is a problem, we will find out about it. I sincerely hope there is not," he said.

    This came after famous investor and businessman Peter Thiel accused Google of "treason". Thiel claimed that the US tech giant had been "infiltrated" by Chinese spies and was working with the Chinese military.

    Huawei Blacklisting

    On 15 May President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring US companies from using telecom equipment from sources the administration deems a national security threat, thus targeting China and its telecom giant Huawei.

    The sanctions banned US firms from striking deals with the company without first procuring special licenses.

    Washington had long been accusing the tech giant of installing “backdoor” access in its devices at the behest of the Chinese government. Beijing and Huawei have both vehemently denied the allegations.

    On 29 June, US President Donald Trump eased the sanctions placed on Huawei by allowing US companies to sell components and spare parts to the still-blacklisted company.


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