With 22% saying they’d “never” choose the firm’s handsets, public suspicion of China may be having an effect on the country’s tech brands
Boris Johnson recently landed in hot water for taking a selfie with a Huawei handset on This Morning – a day after hinting that he might ban its products from 5G networks. It’s an incident that sums up the UK’s conflicted relationship with the firm: now the country’s third most popular smartphone provider and, thanks to alleged ties to the Chinese government, one of its most controversial.
New YouGov research reveals that only one in ten Brits (10%) say they trust Huawei. So what worries the public about the company and its products?
A fifth of the UK public won’t consider Huawei products
Trust in Huawei isn’t just low: it’s deteriorating. In December 2018, 13% said they’d never choose the brand; by June 2019, this increased to 22%. At the beginning of the same period, 19% of consumers said they’d consider it, but by the end, this declined to 15%.
Huawei has had unflattering headlines in the past year: the US banned businesses from working with the firm, and in apparent retaliation, the Chinese government removed all foreign computer equipment and software from its offices. Negative PR could certainly have intensified Brits’ concerns.
Anti-China sentiment may be influencing public perception
But Huawei may be a victim of the UK public’s broader distrust of China.
Over six in ten Brits (63%) consider the People’s Republic untrustworthy, with only Russia ranking higher (73%) in terms of suspicion. Nearly the same proportion worry about its environmental record (61%). It also ranks “top” for low quality: more than a third (35%) believe its products are substandard.
When told about the Chinese origins of brands such as Lenovo and Oppo, public suspicion increased: 32% claimed they trusted the former before taking the survey – falling to 20% when asked again at the end – while for the latter, trust fell from 13% to 9%.
MPs think Chinese products are a threat to national security
On issues of national security, a majority of every group polled were concerned about companies headquartered in China. Over half of consumers (53%) and business leaders (56%) reported that they were worried, as did three quarters of business leaders (75%).
However, MPs are most worried. More than eight in ten (83%) are alarmed about potential national security risks, and while a third (34%) would allow Huawei to get involved in non-core parts of 5G infrastructure, a comfortable majority (62%) believe it shouldn’t touch anything that’s strategically sensitive. Over half also say working with the company damages the UK-US “special relationship”.
Huawei has work to do to win the trust of British consumers and politicians. But the company’s PR woes aren’t entirely of its own making. Tensions between the US and China are escalating, and Huawei’s reputation could be collateral damage.