The Ministry of Defense of Lithuania has advised the country’s consumers not to buy phones from the Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi while citizens who are already in possession of the phones are urged to get rid of them “as soon as possible” due to alleged consumer data monitoring.
Speaking on the matter, a Danish IT expert says that there is a reason for concern, and if the Danish authorities investigated the case thoroughly, Denmark would likely follow suit and ban the sale of Xiaomi phones, TV2 writes.
According to the Ministry of Defense of Lithuania, the Chinese tech giant has built software into the phones that makes it possible to identify and censor words and phrases such as “liberate Tibet” and “long live Taiwan’s independence”. A report by Lithuania’s National Center for Cyber Security states that the software in Xiaomi’s Mi 10T 5G phone can be activated remotely without being near the phone.
However, the function in the specific model has been switched off in the EU, the report states.
In a written response to Danish media Berlingske, Xiaomi denies the allegations and maintains that it “never has and will never restrict or block any users’ actions”.
Danish IT expert: – There is cause for concern
The report from Lithuania lands on top of disputes between Lithuania and China, but despite this, monitoring consumer data is an issue that should be taken very seriously, IT expert Jesper Helbrandt says to TV2.
Jesper Helbrandt who guides companies and authorities against cybercrime daily has read the report and although there is a cause for concern it is with a reservation. “It is extremely difficult to verify and determine the extent of it. Stories like this, and there are many of them, stem from intelligence and analysis – very rarely from concrete evidence, he says.
Jesper Helbrandt says that Xiaomi phones do not sell so well in Denmark, likely due to Danish consumers’ “gradual critical sense and high demands for cyber security” but the seriousness of such monitoring should not be mistaken. “If the Danish government investigated it thoroughly, I do not think it would be unlikely that a ban on the sale of the mentioned phones would be imposed in Denmark” he says.
According to Jesper Helbrandt, both Xiaomi and the Chinese state would benefit from consumer data monitoring. “Commercially, we know from experience that data from private consumers is insanely valuable, while the targeted censorship is a clear geopolitical agenda,” he says.