The US government isn’t the only leadership body with concerns about Chinese phones falling into the hands of its citizens. Lithuania’s Defense Ministry advised consumers to avoid purchasing any Chinese mobile devices this week — and to throw away the ones they have at the earliest opportunity.
These recommendations are not born out of a concern for privacy or Chinese tracking, as was the case here in the US. Instead, Lithuania is more worried about the built-in censorship tech that reportedly ships with phones sold by certain China-based phonemakers, such as Xiaomi. Apparently, the phones in question can “detect and censor” terms like “Free Tibet” and “Long Live Taiwan independence,” among others.
These phrases reference hot-button issues in China, which is known for its authoritarian control over the free expression of it citizens. Topics like freedom and democracy are big no-nos in the country, and any attempts to discuss them openly are often met with swift, though not always severe consequences. At the very least, any flagged messages are removed or blocked across many popular Chinese social media platforms and message boards.
The censorship tech found by Lithuania is present in the Xiaomi Mi 10T 5G. As Reuters reports, it was switched off for EU customers, but can allegedly be “turned on remotely” at any time. It’s perhaps not likely that such a scenario would occur in the near future, though. EU-based citizens (and, really, anyone outside of China) would likely be very quick to spot such active censorship and call Xiaomi out for it.
Still, the mere fact that the censorship software exists on the devices in question seems to be worrisome enough for Lithuania to campaign against them. To be clear, it doesn’t sound like the country is actively banning or restricting the use of Xiaomi devices, or indeed any Chinese phones at all. This report seems like more of a warning than anything, and we can’t argue with that — it’s always best for consumers to be informed about what their devices are capable of, both the good and the bad.