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Red flag warning for Chinese phones

Lithuania’s Defence Ministry warns the nation’s citizens to throw away Chinese phones and not buy new ones.

The country’s National Cyber Security Centre tested Chinese made 5G mobiles. It then reported claims one Xiaomi phone had built-in censorship tools and a Huawei handset had security flaws.

Ars Technica reports:

“The Xiaomi phone includes software modules specifically designed to leak data to Chinese authorities and to censor media related to topics the Chinese government considers sensitive.

The Huawei phone replaces the standard Google Play application store with third-party substitutes the NCSC found to harbour sketchy, potentially malicious repackaging of common applications.”

Both companies denied the claims. But we all know they would do that regardless of any merit.

Not surprising

A fuss over Chinese made phones was always going to happen.

The ball started rolling in 2018. For years before 2018 there were whispers circulating about Huawei’s ability to spy on conversations passing through its network equipment. Arguments ranged from rational and plausible to downright fanciful.

Whether any spying took place was immaterial. Western governments were concerned that critical network infrastructure could become a Chinese-owned monopoly. Or at least dominated by Huawei to the point where it might as well be a monopoly.

The giant had to be stopped before it was unstoppable.


With Huawei network equipment in the spotlight, attention turned to phone handsets. These also had spying potential.

It didn’t help that the US was fighting a trade war with China.

When this was going on, it was clear that if Huawei is a problem, you have to consider other Chinese network equipment and phone makers as risky. And while we are looking in that direction, questions were asked about Chinese factories making phones for western brands.

The jury remains out on whether Huawei is spying on customers.

Chinese risk

If you don’t think China poses a cybersecurity risk, you haven’t been paying enough attention. There’s a Wikipedia page looking at the issue.

It may not be related to these risks, but Chinese phones have taken a smaller share of New Zealand sales in recent years. Samsung and Apple continue to dominate.

IDC reports that for the first quarter of 2021 they accounted for 84 percent of the market. That figure measures units. If IDC measured dollars, the top pair would be more than 90 percent of the market.

Regardless of cybersecurity fears, readers would be well advised to stay away from Xiaomiand its regularly updated Chinese government approved blocklist of sites.

If nothing else, the company gets reports on your browsing activity. Your activity could end up on a database and land you in trouble if, say, you travelled to China.