Chinese smartphone brands have often been accused of spying on its users, even those living abroad. Some may call it Xenophobic, while others may argue that the threat is real. It appears the Lithuanian Government is the latest to point fingers at a Beijing-based corporation.
In case you are wondering why Lithuania is rising against the Chinese government, it began a month ago when the European nation allowed Taiwan to open an embassy on its soil. This infuriated China, as it claims Taiwan to be a part of its own Country. The PRC (People’s Republic of China) recalled its ambassador from Lithuania, and demanded the Country to withdraw their ambassador from Beijing. The US however stepped in to support Lithuania’s decision. Now, politics aside, an issue has surfaced that could be a concern for many.
The Lithuanian Defense Ministry, after analyzing phones made by Xiaomi Corp, has made a sensational claim. Reuters reports that the Defense Ministry’s National Cyber Security Center says that Xiaomi phones have built-in censorship capabilities. According to the official statement, the phone’s software has the capacity to detect terms such as “Free Tibet”,”Long live Taiwan Independence”, “Democracy Movement”. If the device finds such terms, it will automatically censor the message. Just imagine, if you’re reading something online, and it has one of the phrases mentioned above, it probably won’t be displayed if the device prevents it.
Alarmingly, the report also alleges that this censorship feature is disabled in the European Union, but it can be activated remotely by Xiaomi, at any time. While the statement does not go into the technical aspects of the issue, the wording does seem to indicate that the phones have some sort of backdoor that can be exploited by the Chinese company. The device that was inspected by the Cybersecurity body, was the Mi 10T 5G. If true, this is not only something that denies freedom of speech, it is also a serious breach in privacy if it can be triggered remotely.
Based on these facts, the Lithuanian Defense Deputy Minister has advised the Country’s people not to buy Chinese phones, and also to get rid of existing devices as soon as possible. It is clear that the EU nation thinks that Xiaomi is influenced by the PRC, hence the call for a boycott against the company’s devices.
It is not the first government to openly oppose China. The Trump administration was particularly critical of Huawei, after it accused the company of being a state-owned firm that was controlled by the Chinese military. The United States Government viewed it as a threat to National Security, and this resulted in Huawei and ZTE networking equipment being banned from Government offices in the US in 2019. To make matters worse, the Chinese OEM was also blacklisted in the US, which prevented companies based in America, from collaborating with Huawei. This led to Google severing ties with Huawei, meaning no new devices from the OEM could ship with Google Play Services, including the Google Play Store, Gmail, YouTube, etc. Huawei forked the open source Android operating system, and created HarmonyOS and has been using it on its devices ever since.
Xiaomi/Redmi/Poco users will be aware that the phones run on a custom Android skin called MIUI. It has been criticized for displaying ads, collecting telemetry, and the bloatware apps that it ships out of the box. That’s why I use a custom ROM on my phone to avoid the bloatware and tracking. What do you do to protect your phone?