Xiaomi smartphone facing German probe after Lithuania censorship row

Lithuania last week urged citizens to throw away any Chinese-made smartphone.
Lithuania last week urged citizens to throw away any Chinese-made smartphone. Photo credit: Getty Images

The censorship fallout over Chinese company Xiaomi's smartphones continues with Germany's federal cybersecurity watchdog, the BSI, now looking at the M10T model.

A spokesperson for the BSI told Reuters a technical examination is being conducted, but provided no further details.

Last week Lithuania's National Cyber Security Centre urged citizens to throw away any Chinese-made mobile phone handsets, saying the devices had in-built censorship capabilities. That included the ability to censor words and phrases such as "Free Tibet", "Long live Taiwan independence" and "democracy movement" in the phone's default apps.

There have long been doubts about technology associated with certain Chinese companies, particularly around national security and spying.

Earlier this year Germany passed security legislation restricting the role of "untrustworthy" 5G technology suppliers. Operators have to notify the government when they sign contracts for 5G components with the government having the ability to block them.

That came after a long discussion around Huawei, another Chinese smartphone manufacturer, and its role in critical infrastructure in the country.

The UK government has previously banned Huawei technology and, just this week, the US announced it was starting a program to replace the company's devices in its networks.

In 2018, Spark wanted to use Huawei equipement to help with its 5G network, but the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) said there were security risks around doing so.

Andrew Little, the minister responsible for the GCSB, later said "New Zealand does not ban any telecommunications vendor", indicating New Zealand wouldn't follow the UK's legal ban

The M10T model remains on sale in New Zealand, with a company spokesperson telling Newshub "Xiaomi has never and will never restrict or block any personal behaviours of our smartphone users, such as searching, calling, web browsing or the use of third-party communication software."

"Xiaomi fully respects and protects the legal rights of all users."

However, the company has said it uses advertising software to stop users seeing content such as pornography and references that would offend local users.

Lithuania's Deputy Defence Minister Margiris Abukevicius said Xiaomi "is admitting the phones are capable of content filtering" despite the company saying it was standard practice in the industry to do so.

"Our investigation found that the blacklist for the filters contained only politically motivated terms," the Deputy Defence Minister told Reuters.

"If a new list turns up, that would not negate our findings, it would just show that the company is trying to repair its reputation."

He said the ministry had shared its report with officials from other European Union nations and the US.

Earlier this week Xiaomi said it was engaging a third-party expert to assess allegations by Lithuania regarding the censorship row.