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Xiaomi denies snooping claims

It was of course never going to admit it has been spying on customers, so Xiaomi has hit back at a Forbes article which suggests the smartphone manufacturer is eavesdropping.

The report, which was written in conjunction with security researcher Gabi Cirlig, suggests Xiaomi is collecting data on internet browsing and smartphone usage, even when incognito mode is selected, or privacy-focused browsers such as DuckDuckGo are used. The data could be traced back to servers located in Russia and Singapore, though the domain names have been registered in China.

Although Xiaomi and other smartphone manufacturers collect data on how smartphones are being used to improve performance and inform future design decisions, the report suggests the firm goes way beyond what would be deemed acceptable.

All data should be anonymised and aggregated, to protect user privacy, while explicit consent should be sought from the user before any data is collected. It is claimed Xiaomi has not held up its own end of the bargain, though collecting data from incognito mode or privacy-focused browsers breaks numerous privacy principles and rules.

The security claims paint a gloomy picture of deception, a story which sounds very familiar; US politicians have continuously stated Chinese firms should not be trusted.

Xiaomi’s response to the allegations is as what many would expect.

“At Xiaomi, our users’ privacy and security are of top priority,” a statement reads. “We strictly follow and are fully compliant with user privacy protection laws and regulations in the countries and regions we operate in.”

The firm has stated it only collects data when permissions have been granted and it complies with all local data protection and privacy laws. It has released several updates to close any loopholes or oversights which might compromise security or privacy.

In short, Xiaomi contests all allegations which have been made in the article.

It is hardly unusual for Chinese companies to be at the centre of a privacy scandal, but Xiaomi has managed to avoid attention from US authorities to date, something it will surely like to continue.

Smartphone shipments – Q1 2020 (millions)
Company Volume Market share Year-on-year
Samsung 58.3 21.1% -18.9%
Huawei 49 17.8% -17.1%
Apple 36.7 13.3% -0.4%
Xiaomi 29.5 10.7% 6.1%
Vivo 24.8 9% 7%

Source: IDC Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker

Xiaomi is smartphone brand which is on the rise, especially in the international markets. While it scraps with the likes of Huawei for dominance in China, it has been growing healthily in Western Europe, maybe because it has managed to avoid any negative perceptions.

Whenever doubt is cast on the security or privacy credentials of a China company, suspicions are raised in the eyes of consumers and interest perked in the minds of US politicians. ZTE and Huawei are wearing the scars of US attention, and considering the momentum being gathered by Xiaomi, it will certainly want to avoid the same fate, especially if there is a threat to supply chains during this precarious period.

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