One of Huawei Technologies Co.’s biggest trade war headaches has just gotten worse, as an unofficial workaround to the Trump administration ban on using Google apps and services has been quashed.
Security researcher John Wu published an illuminating post on Tuesday that explained how users of Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro were able to manually download and install Google apps, despite a US blacklisting that prohibits the Chinese company from using American components and software.
This process allowed the Mate 30 Pro along with the basic Mate 30 to run popular apps like Google Maps and Gmail that otherwise would not be permitted.
In the wake of Wu’s revelations, the Mate 30 devices lost their clearance to manually install Android apps, as reported by a number of smartphone experts.
Only Google is able to make that kind of change through what’s known as its SafetyNet anti-abuse check.
“Although this ‘backdoor’ requires user interaction to be enabled, the installer app, which is signed with a special certificate from Huawei, was granted privileges nowhere to be found on standard Android systems,” Wu wrote on Medium.
As always Google declined to comment on this story.
An easy-to-use app enabling the installation of Google apps and services on the Mate 30 Pro, called LZPlay, had emerged alongside the device’s release, however, it has disappeared after Wu’s posting.
The researcher said in his findings that “it is pretty obvious that Huawei is well aware of this ‘LZPlay’ app, and explicitly allows its existence.”
Huawei said in an emailed statement it has had no involvement with LZPlay.
Effectively, the change makes sure that the US ban on Google services for the Mate 30 Pro is ironclad and many of the users outside of China who might have obtained or imported the device will now have only the bare Android-based Huawei user experience.
Presently the main problem for Huawei is Google Play Store. This system-level app that’s part of Google’s licensed bundle opens access to the full panoply of Android applications. Without it, no matter how great specs and performance of a device, an Android device is a tough sell for U.S. or European customers.
Huawei doesn’t have the same challenge in its native China because the government already bans most Google apps and services on all smartphones. In China users mostly rely on Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat. WeChat offers a variety of other sources for apps, games, and entertainment to Chinese users. With time it developed an ecosystem that’s developed in Google’s absence.