Be careful where you buy them: phones from top Chinese brands like Xiaomi or Oppo may be full of spyware

Manufacturers of China’s most popular smartphone brands, including the world’s number three Xiaomi, collect a huge amount of information from users, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Trinity College Dublin.

Thus, phones from OnePlus, Xiaomi, Oppo or Realme sold in China transmit a lot of information to certain entities – mobile operators, device manufacturers, search engine Baidu, etc. – without users’ consent. Researchers analysed models such as the OnePlus 9R, Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 or Realme Q3 Pro.

Many system or partner apps come pre-installed on these devices with dangerous privileges enabled by default. Thus, information such as IMEI numbers, MAC addresses, owners’ phone numbers, most used apps, geographical coordinates or even contacts in the address book and call history are collected.

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Users are not privy to the information collected, nor can they turn it off in the settings.

Also read: Images of Xiaomi’s first electric car, the MS11 model, published on the internet

The researchers note that only devices sold in China running local versions of Android are affected, not those offered in international markets. Those who purchased such phones directly from China or another country on a grey channel should be aware that they still collect and send data, even if used outside the country.

Given the close relations many of these companies have with the Communist government in Beijing, the question arises whether similar, more covert data collection programs are also being run on smartphones sold in the West?

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The study also shows that versions of Android used on Chinese phones have up to four times more pre-installed apps than those on identical smartphone models sold in Europe, for example, and have up to 10 times more permissions enabled by default.

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