Chinese Company Excitement: Xiaomi

December 15, 2021

Own stock in Alibaba? Well, think Xiaomi.

Lithuania made a discovery during a recent cybersecurity assessment that, honestly, does not surprise us in the least. We learn of the finding in Big Technology’s piece, “A Xiaomi Phone Might’ve Shipped With a Censorship List in Europe. Now What?” A certain Xiaomi phone model sold in Europe was found to carry a built-in censorship list of about 450 political terms, like “democratic movement” and “long live Taiwan’s independence.” The blocklist lay dormant, but it could have been activated remotely at any time. It is thought its inclusion on phones shipped outside China, where censorship is the norm, may have been a mistake. Reporter Alex Kantrowitz writes:

“After the government published its findings, things got weird. The list swelled to more than 1,000 terms, including hundreds of non-political terms like ‘pornography,’ seemingly to turn the political blocklist into something more generic. Then, it disappeared. ‘They reacted,’ Margiris Abukevicius, Lithuania’s vice minister for defense, told me. ‘It wasn’t publicized from their side.’ The accusations, which Xiaomi disputes, clarified just how fraught the West’s relationship is with China’s growing technology power. As China-based tech companies like Xiaomi and TikTok flourish, there’s still no playbook in North America or Europe to deal with their potential to censor or steer culture via algorithms. TikTok, with its inscrutable feed, remains unchecked. And the Lithuanian government’s report on Xiaomi, replicated by another researcher, sparked a collective shrug. ‘Western countries,’ Abukevicius said, ‘are more and more reliant on technologies, and a big part of those technologies comes from countries which are not friendly, which we don’t trust, and it poses risks.’ How to address those risks remains unclear, though. Xiaomi was Europe’s top-selling smartphone manufacturer in the second quarter of 2021, and it’s number two in the world overall.”

Not in the US, though. Xiaomi was blacklisted here until recently, and FCC commissioner Brendan Carr is taking Lithuania’s discovery into account as he decides whether to allow Xiaomi smartphones to run on our wireless networks. In Europe, more countries are investigating the matter. It is uncertain what measures will be taken; an outright ban seems “extreme,” we’re told, considering there is no evidence the blocklist was ever activated within the EU. Kantrowitz points out the bigger issue going forward is a more general one—Western nations need a plan to address the culture clash and potential security risks cropping up on our devices.

Cynthia Murrell, December xx, 2021


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