IS Xiaomi Snooping on its Indian Users?

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Recent news articles cited that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has issued warning to its personnel on using Chinese smartphone, Xiaomi. The IAF was concerned about privacy settings in Xiaomi as the Chinese smartphone company may be storing and accessing personal user data from its servers in Beijing. IAF is said to have issued the directive regarding privacy after the series of tests run on Xiaomi Redmi 1S, by ‘F-Secure’, a Finnish security firm.

The tests by F-Secure were conducted back in the month of August, when Redmi 1S was newly launched within the Indian Territory. The firm and its tests reported that the Redmi 1S was sending phone numbers, contact lists, device identification codes, and messages (without the knowledge of users) to Xiaomi’s servers in Beijing, China. However, this isn’t the first time India was uncomfortable to use high-end Chinese technology mobile phones.

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On February this year, Indian investigated Huawei on suspicion of hacking into telecom networks of BSNL, the state-run phone company. Five years back, the government displayed reservations on ZTE, Chinese telecom gear provider. The Indian government advised BSNL not to buy equipments from ZTE, although they are among the cheapest telecom suppliers. This is also not the first time Xiaomi has found itself embroiled within privacy concerns. In August, the Chinese smartphone maker was investigated by Singapore government.

Nonetheless, one must understand that every company, especially the prominent ones like Apple, Google collect personal user data and sends to its server situated in a different country. By collecting and sending personal user data, the company enables its users to exchange free messages on the cloud, through IP, rather than the SMS gateway of their telecom carriers. Cloud services are also helpful to users for backing up data and to sync it across multiple devices. Cloud-based services provided by Apple, Microsoft, and Google follow the similar procedures, but those companies sends data to its server in America.

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Considering the conflicting political history between the two large Asian countries, the sending of user data to Chinese servers has raised hackles. Now, Xiaomi has released a statement saying that the services which are red-flagged like Mi Cloud and Cloud Messaging were now changed into opt-in services. Xiaomi’s Vice-president Mr. Hugo Barra has also said in a Google Plus post that Xiaomi is migrating its user data, for users situated outside China, to Amazon AWS data centers, situated in USA. By 2015, Xiaomi may even have local data center in India.

Recently, Xiaomi unseated Samsung to capture the number one position in China. It also had a dream opening in India, in July, as it join hands with Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart, selling more than 400,000 handsets in a flash sale. Now, with the rising concerns of cyber-snooping, Xiaomi might find it hard to earn the trust of Indian authorities, even after shifting its servers.

One way or another, smartphones sends out information to track users as there are many third-part apps, which are designed to work in a hidden manner. The concerns should be raised, not only on Xiaomi or Non-USA Company, as we are kept in the dark regarding the usage of stored personal data.

 

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