Vietnam security experts raise caution on Chinese smartphone privacy breach

Vietnamese smartphone users are advised to beware of Chinese-made handsets after a Beijing-based phone maker admitted recently it was collecting personal data without permission

A shop attendant holds a Xiaomi 1S smartphone at a mobile phone store in Ho Chi Minh City August 14, 2014.

Xiaomi Inc vice president Hugo Barra last week apologized for collecting phone numbers in users' address books, but the move was done only “to see if the users are online,” he said in a blogpost on Google Plus.

The data breach, widely reported by media outlets in Taiwan, was discovered by Finnish security firm F-Secure Oyg, which said the Xiaomi’s Redmi Note smartphones would automatically collect data regardless of the users’ intervention.

In Vietnam, computer security firm Bkav asserted to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that Redmi Note has a built-in function that covertly collects personal data and transfers to the phone maker’s server in China.

“We have ample proof Redmi Note is designed to send data regarding the phone numbers of dialed and received calls and SMS to Xiaomi server,” Bkav deputy chairman of research and development Vu Ngoc Son said.

Even though there is a configuration setting that allows users to disable data auto backup, the handset would still continue its privacy breach when the function is turned off, Son added.

“This is an act of illegally collecting personal data from one of the largest phone makers in China,” the Bkav expert emphasized.

Redmi 1S, another device produced by Xiaomi, has also been found to have secretly collected personal data without permission, according to F-Secure Oyg.

Data including users’ service provider, phone numbers, text messages would be transferred to Xiaomi server at api.account.xiaomi.com.

Xiaomi has admitted its data breach following the F-Secure discovery.

Earlier in June, Chinese newswire Yangtse Evening News reported that Xiaomi smartphone could "steal" personal details from bank cards through wireless communication.

Son of Bkav advised that users beware of the built-in apps on the smartphones, as they could steal their data.

“Users must have full knowledge of all of the apps on their devices, otherwise they should contact the phone manufacturers for clarification,” he said.

Xiaomi smartphones are popular in China and some Southeast Asian countries as they are equipped with modern technologies while bear very cheap prices.

The devices are unofficially imported to Vietnam and are on sale at many electronics stores and supermarkets.

But as Xiaomi does not have a representative office in Vietnam, users cannot complain or ask for warranty when their devices break.

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