Censored smartphones – more EU countries warn against Chinese phones

Recently, this information has caused a stir: the Lithuanian government has officially warned its citizens against buying Chinese smartphones. What happened? The State Cybersecurity Center in Vilnius examined three 5G smartphones from Huawei, Xiaomi and OnePlus and found four critical threats.

The biggest criticism fell on the most expansive company of the year in the tech industry, i.e. Xiaomi. The report of the Lithuanian authorities informs about clear premises pointing to built-in censorship mechanisms. According to Lithuanians, Mi 10T 5G downloads a list of around 450 terms. The potential goal of this action is to censor content critical to China.

The Chinese problem: nothing new

The sharpening of the authoritarian course of the Chinese government is not without significance for the growth of skepticism towards Chinese technology. No wonder that many Asian producers in Europe and the USA are under suspicion almost automatically. Is there hard evidence? For the OnePlus device I examined, nothing was found. In the Huawei P40, Lithuanians found security problems resulting from the pre-installed App Gallery application. Huawei placed it on smartphones because, due to US sanctions, it could not use the traditional Google Play store.

If App Gallery users do not find what they were looking for, they are redirected to third parties that also offer infected applications. This is questionable, but not necessarily a purely Chinese problem. According to reports by the Baltic Information Agency BNS, Huawei rejected the objections. The Lithuanian representative of a Chinese technology company stated that there is no processing of user data outside of the Huawei device.

Censorship in Xiaomi

In Xiaomi’s Mi 10T 5G, however, analysts from the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense found a pre-installed feature that could censor content downloaded to smartphones. In their opinion, devices can recognize and block concepts such as free tibet or democratic movements – this is the official information. Although the function is deactivated on smartphones sold in Europe, you can start it remotely at any time.

Xiaomi also quickly took a position on the allegations: – Xiaomi devices do not censor communication. This includes content, both read and sent. Xiaomi has never limited and will not limit or block any personal activities of our smartphone users, such as searching, calling, browsing the web, or using third-party messaging software. Xiaomi fully respects and protects the rights of all users. Xiaomi complies with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a spokesman for the company, asked by Komputer Świat, wrote in a press statement. Is this what a strong denial looks like? Not completely.

A complicated matter

A careful analysis of the Chinese statements shows that Xiaomi does not deny the existence of a censorship function in the operating systems of its end-user devices and only states that in Europe the function is disabled.

In the meantime, there was a heated discussion about the technical procedures on Xiaomi devices. An Android expert from the renowned XDA development community pointed out, after analyzing the program code, that the list of “undesirable” terms is primarily related to pornography. So, it’s just about stopping unwanted advertising. Other statements by Xiaomi representatives are also heading in a similar direction, pointing to similar filtration methods from other manufacturers.

It is doubtful, however, why the filter list (which contains 449 phrases in Chinese and is constantly updated) includes phrases such as America’s voice or Long live independent Taiwan. There remains at least an unpleasant impression that Xiaomi wants to defuse using independent experts. Who these experts are and when the results of their work will be known, it is not yet known.

According to the editors

Komputer Świat regularly tests Xiaomi smartphones. In all our tests, user experience and measurement values ​​are at the forefront, but also safety. The analysis of the operating system is a very complex and feasible task only for specialized laboratories. Komputer Świat analyzes such reports and takes them into account in the final assessment, if data protection arrangements raise concerns – this was the case in the Xiaomi Band 6 test. One thing is for sure: we will be closely monitoring the matter.


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About Alex Marcell

He likes dogs, pizza and popcorn. Already a fanboy of Nintendo and Sony, but today throws anything. He has collaborated on sites and magazines such as GameBlast, Nintendo World, Hero and Portal Pop, but today is dedicated exclusively to Spark Chronicles.

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