Project Maven doesn’t mean anything for many people unless you’re in the military or Google. It’s an artificial intelligence research partnership between the search giant and the US Department of Defense that Google decided not to renew following some internal protests on the matter.
Some US lawmakers aren’t happy about that, and now they’re asking Google to detail its partnership with Huawei, one of the two Chinese companies having a hard time in the States right now.
The letter, penned by various Republican senators and congresspeople, as well as a Democrat congressperson, manages to link Project Maven to the Google-Huawei partnership:
We urge you to reconsider Google’s partnership with Huawei, particularly since your company recently refused to renew a key research partnership, Project Maven, with the Department of Defense. This project uses artificial intelligence to improve the accuracy of U.S. military targeting, not least to reduce civilian casualties. While we regret that Google did not want to continue a long and fruitful tradition of collaboration between the military and technology companies, we are even more disappointed that Google apparently is more willing to support the Chinese Communist Party than the U.S. military.
Obviously, there’s no connection between these two aspects of Google’s business decisions. The fact that Google doesn’t want to support Project Maven anymore doesn’t imply that it’s “more willing to support the Chinese Communist Party.”
Sure, intelligence agencies and lawmakers have rightful reasons to suspect that Chinese companies may be working with the Chinese government to spy on its adversaries. But that doesn’t mean Google is supporting in any way Huawei more than other Android device makers.
The letter, addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, says that the concerns are real, and that a former “US intelligence officer charged with spying for the Chinese government used Huawei technology to communicate with his handlers.”
Then again, an intelligence officer would probably be able to communicate with any sort of handlers using a variety of devices, not just Huawei — again, it’s unclear from the statement above whether some sort of spy apps were installed on the Huawei handset in question.
While I have no way of knowing what the Google-Huawei partnership contains, I do know that the two companies did not launch a joint product in quite a while. That’s the type of collaboration that would require a closer relationship. Moreover, it’s not like Google’s business is doing great in China either.
Google already issued a first response to the letter, but not from Pichai.
“Like many U.S. companies, we have agreements with dozens of OEMs (manufacturers) around the world, including Huawei. We do not provide special access to Google user data as part of this agreement, and our agreements include privacy and security protections for use data,” Google spokeswoman Andrea Faville said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
The letter also contains a reminder that US Congress is pushing various legislative measures to prevent the Huawei threat and the battle against China’s biggest smartphone maker isn’t over.
Sundar Pichai, it’s your turn to serve!