Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Lithuania urges users to abandon Chinese smartphones over ‘built-in censorship tool’

A popular Chinese-made phone has a built-in censorship tool that can blacklist search terms on the web, according to research by the Lithuanian government, which is urging phone owners to change them.

The Lithuanian Ministry of Defense analyzed three popular Chinese-made phones currently sold in Europe: Xiaomi Mi 10T 5G; Huawei P40 5G; OnePlus 8T 5G. It reported finding a censorship tool built into Xiaomi phones that could block certain search terms, including “Taiwan’s longevity of independence,” “free Tibet,” “democratic movement,” and “Voice of America.”

“It is very worrying that there is a built-in censorship tool and keywords, which can filter or filter your search on the web,” Lithuanian Deputy Defense Minister Margiris Abukavicius told VOA.


Xiaomi is the most popular smartphone brand in Europe. Lithuanian researchers have said that the blacklist feature has been turned off on Xiaomi phones sold in Europe, but it can be activated remotely. The list of blocked search terms appears to be constantly updated. The blacklist had 449 words or phrases in April 2021. By September, that number had tripled to 1,376.

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“We clearly saw that all those key words are politically motivated,” Abukevicius said. “Terms like Tibet, Taiwan, Democracy, America and some companies like yours” [Voice of America], is mentioned in that list. and they are adding [words] Not only in Chinese, they’re also adding words to Latin [script]”

German security services have also started a technical investigation of the Xiaomi phone.

Xiaomi did not respond to VOA requests for comment. The firm said this week it was engaging an independent expert to assess the findings.

In this example taken on September 28, 2021, a smartphone with the Huawei logo is seen next to the flag of the European Union.


Lithuanian researchers found that the Huawei P40 5G model collected users’ data – including how much time they spent using apps – and stored it on servers outside the EU, beyond the jurisdiction of the EU’s strict data laws.

The report states that Huawei’s official app store, called AppGallery, directed users to apps containing malware.

“A part of the mobile application contained on the Application Distribution Platform is an imitation of the original application, with malicious functionality or virus infection; Such applications may be downloaded and installed on the mobile phone by the user, thereby jeopardizing the security of the device and the data contained therein,” the report said.

“Data protection risks have also been identified in Xiaomi devices; Factory-installed system applications send statistical data on the activity of certain applications installed on the device to servers of Chinese cloud service provider Tencent located in Singapore, USA, Netherlands, Germany and India,” the researchers wrote.

In a statement, Huawei told VOA, “Huawei has always adhered to the principle of integrity, complying with the laws and regulations of the countries and territories where it operates. Huawei has a presence in more than 170 countries and territories.” Has a strong cyber security record and has served over 3 billion users. Data is never processed outside of a Huawei device.”

It added, “Huawei is transparent about the data it collects from customers, which is kept to a minimum and used to enhance personalization and user experience. Huawei makes it clear that these apps are public. are from publicly available sources, hence the user is not compelled to download the app.”

National Security

Lithuania has asked government employees to get rid of Xiaomi and Huawei phones. Abukevicius told the VOA that other countries should focus on the research.

“On the basis of national security, in fact, we are looking for ways to protect our state institutions and institutions working in national security and give them the opportunity to work only with trusted suppliers. When it comes to consumers So, we’re definitely giving recommendations, you know, to really avoid using cloud services, some apps, avoid using Chinese-made apps,” Abukevicius said.

China has yet to comment on the report. Several Western countries, including the United States, have blocked Huawei from the rollout of 5G mobile networks, fearing that the company poses a security risk.

“I think our research is an example of how we should go beyond that discussion in telecommunications, that we should think about in other areas,” Abukevicius said.

diplomatic tension

The report comes against the backdrop of strained relations between Lithuania and China.

The two countries withdrew their ambassadors after Lithuania allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy there using its own name. China considers Taiwan its territory.

In many countries, Taiwan’s diplomatic missions are named after the capital, Taipei, rather than the island. In retaliation, Beijing last month halted rail freight traffic to Lithuania and suspended trade licenses for Lithuanian producers.

The United States has reiterated its support for Lithuania, which Washington called “economic coercion” by China.


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