Lithuania says throw away Chinese phones due to censorship concerns
By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS (Reuters) - The Lithuanian Defense Ministry advised consumers not to buy Chinese cell phones and advised people who have them to throw away the ones they have now after a government report found the devices had built-in censorship features.
Flagship phones sold in Europe by China's smartphone giant Xiaomi Corp have a built-in ability to recognize and censor terms such as "Free Tibet", "Long live Taiwan independence" or "Democracy Movement", the Lithuanian state government said Cybersecurity agency on Tuesday.
The function in Xiaomi's Mi 10T 5G phone software has been deactivated for the "region of the European Union", but can be switched on remotely at any time, said the National Cyber Security Center of the Ministry of Defense in the report.
"Our recommendation is not to buy new Chinese phones and get rid of those already bought as soon as possible," Defense Minister Margiris Abukevicius told reporters at the launch of the report.
Xiaomi did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Relations between Lithuania and China have deteriorated recently. China last month called for Lithuania to withdraw its ambassador in Beijing and said it would call its envoy back to Vilnius after Taiwan announced that its mission to Lithuania would be called Taiwanese Representation.
Taiwanese missions in Europe and the United States use the name of the city of Taipei and avoid any reference to the island itself, which China claims as its own territory. US President Joe Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to Lithuania's Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte last week, highlighting her country's support in the face of pressure from China.
The National Cyber Center report also states that the Xiaomi phone is sending encrypted phone usage data to a server in Singapore. A vulnerability was also found in the P40 5G phone from China's Huawei, but none was found in the phone of another Chinese manufacturer, OnePlus. The representative of Huawei in the Baltic States informed the BNS message service that its phones are not sending any user data outside.
According to the report, the list of terms that could be censored by the Xiaomi phone's system apps, including the default internet browser, currently contains 449 terms in Chinese and is constantly being updated.
"This is important not only for Lithuania, but for all countries that use Xiaomi devices," the center said in the report.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
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