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Do Xiaomi smartphones covertly spy on its users?

An article today claimed that Xiaomi smartphones secretly sent data to a server in China without the user's permission. With Xiaomi, China and secret handshakes with servers involved, needless to say

xiaomi-redmi-note

An article today claimed that Xiaomi smartphones secretly sent data to a server in China without the user’s permission. With Xiaomi, China and secret handshakes with servers involved, needless to say the story spread like wildfire. So what is it all about? Do Xiaomi smartphones really spy on its users? We finally have an answer.

The TL;DR version is no, they don’t. There are two scenarios when Xiaomi smartphones connect to Xiaomi’s servers in China. One MIUI constantly connects to Xiaomi’s servers to download preset messages, jokes, holiday greetings and so forth. Secondly, if users have turned Mi Cloud on, then the service would automatically take a backup of the phone.

Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra explains why and how it happens.

Q: Online articles recently referred to some privacy issues with the Redmi Note, claiming that photos and text messages are sent to China secretly. Are they true?

A: An article severely misinterpreted a discussion thread asking about the Redmi Note’s communication with a server in China. The article also neglected to refer to a Chinese version of this Q&A already posted on the Xiaomi Hong Kong Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Xiaomihongkong/posts/799059896795602). MIUI does not secretly upload photos and text messages.

MIUI requests public data from Xiaomi servers from time to time. These include data such as preset greeting messages (thousands of jokes, holiday greetings and poems) in the Messaging app and MIUI OTA update notifications, i.e. all non-personal data that does not infringe on user privacy.

Q: Does Xiaomi upload any personal data without my knowledge?

A: Xiaomi offers a service called Mi Cloud that enables users to back up and manage personal information in the cloud, as well as sync to other devices.  This includes contacts, notes, text messages and photos. Mi Cloud is turned off by default.  Users must log in with their Mi accounts and manually turn on Mi Cloud.  They also have the option to only turn on backup for certain types of data. The use and storage of data in Mi Cloud fully respects the local laws of each country and region.  Strict encryption algorithms are implemented to protect user privacy.

Q: Can I turn Mi Cloud off?

A: Yes. Just go to Settings > Mi Cloud to turn it off. If you would like to use a cloud back up service from another provider, there are options from Google, Dropbox and many others.

Q: Why should I believe you?

A: Xiaomi is serious about user privacy and takes all possible steps to ensure our Internet services adhere to our privacy policy. We do not upload any personal information and data without the permission of users. In a globalized economy, Chinese manufacturers’ handsets are selling well internationally, and many international brands are similarly successful in China – any unlawful activity would be greatly detrimental to a company’s global expansion efforts.

  • Published Date: July 30, 2014 10:40 PM IST
  • Updated Date: July 30, 2014 10:40 PM IST