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Lithuania Tells Users To Ditch Chinese Phones Over Censorship Fears

Xiaomi phones block content that mentions 'Taiwan,' 'democracy'

A Xiaomi store in Beijing (Photo by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
• September 23, 2021 12:30 pm

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Lithuania has warned its citizens that a popular phone manufactured in China contains built-in censorship technology, Reuters reported.

According to Lithuania’s National Cyber Security Centre, phones from Xiaomi Corporation contain tools that can censor phrases the Chinese government finds offensive, including "Free Tibet," "Long live Taiwan independence," and "democracy movement." The center also reported that the phones sent encrypted user data to a server in Singapore.

Those tools in Xiaomi’s 5G phone software had not been turned on in the "European Union region" but could be turned on remotely at any time. Lithuania’s vice minister of defense warned the public against buying new Chinese phones and urged Lithuanians to "get rid of those already purchased as fast as reasonably possible."

The Xiaomi phone uses a technique called "client-side scanning," in which the phone's software searches for terms on the phone without sending data elsewhere. The tool can automatically block downloads of content containing words from a list of banned terms supplied by the Chinese government. Lithuanian officials said the list of terms was currently Chinese characters but that Latin characters could easily be added to the list.

Apple made waves earlier this year when it announced it would roll out client-side scanning for child pornography on iPhones. Following the announcements, experts warned that China could co-opt the tool to hunt down political dissidents. The Lithuanian revelations show China already uses these tools on phones it manufactures.

The censorship tools are the latest example of China attempting to impose its own speech standards on other countries. China pressures major international organizations not to use the word Taiwan. Relations between Lithuania and China have soured over Taiwan, which has aligned itself closely with Lithuania.

Published under: Apple, Censorship, China