Thinking about buying a Chinese phone? Make sure you read this first – not all phones are the same when it comes to data and privacy…
The phone market is dominated by a handful of brands – Apple and Samsung are the two most well-known. But behind them, we have brands like OPPO and Xiaomi. China’s phones brands will soon eclipse Apple and Samsung.
The rise of BBK’s assortment of phone brands now seems unstoppable. You have OPPO, RealMe, OnePlus, and VIVO all operated and owned by the same Chinese mega-corporation, BBK Electronics. And then you have Xiaomi.
All of these Chinese phone brands have grown massively in the past several years – RealMe and VIVO have done a huge amount in the last two. But are these brands safe compared to American phone companies like Apple and Google? Or Korean firm Samsung? Can they be trusted with your data?
Not so long ago, Xiaomi was caught out with its hand in the cookie jar. Independent researchers that Xiaomi was siphoning data from its handsets and sending it back to its servers in China. This data was then being poured over by a behavioral analytics company. As revelations go, this one was pretty scary given just how popular Xiaomi phones are.
After being caught out, Xiaomi made some changes, begrudgingly. It didn’t think it had done anything wrong. According to Xiaomi, wanting to get to know its users better isn’t a bad thing. And it is here where the real problem is – Xiaomi does not share YOUR views with what should happen with YOUR data. If you’re using its phones, you’re basically fair game.
But what about other Chinese brands like OPPO and VIVO? Are they any better or should you be giving ALL Chinese phone brands a wide berth? Let’s take a look at what the general consensus is from experts in the cyber security field and find out once and for all.
Unlike Xiaomi, OPPO goes to great lengths to ensure that all data that is extracted from your phone is both encrypted and anonymized. OPPO uses all of Android 11’s core security features as well as adding in its own additional security measures. This ensures any data that is shared from your phone is totally encrypted, just as it should be.
And that’s all well and good, but the Indian government is now taking a serious look at whether Chinese brand phones from VIVO, OPPO, and Xiaomi are safe for use in its country. This investigation is ongoing at the moment, so no conclusions can be drawn just yet.
VIVO is owned by the same company the operates OPPO, so it stands to reason that it will have much the same security and privacy measures in place. I attempted to find as much information as I could on VIVO phones but nothing turned up. Again, this company is currently being actively investigated in India for the same reason that Huawei was in the USA a couple of years ago.
RealMe was much the same story as VIVO, although RealMe is owned by BBK, the same company that owns OPPO and OnePlus, and VIVO. This means, again, that it will likely have similar security and privacy terms and conditions. All of these phones will collect some form of data, all phones brands do, but as of right now Xiaomi is the only one that has actually been caught doing something fairly nefarious.
I think, in today’s world, it is more a case of picking your poison, deciding who you want to have access to your data. If you use Apple’s iPhone for instance, you know that Apple has a pretty clear policy on how it handles your data – it is one of the best in the business. For me, this clarity is very important and it is one of the main reasons why I use iPhones.
If all you want is a cheap phone with plenty of decent specs, and you don’t really care about your data being sent off to China, then go with a Chinese phone. It all comes down to your own personal preferences. I appreciate not everybody cares about this sort of thing but it is important so it is certainly worth keeping in mind the next time you’re looking to get a new phone.
Me? I use iPhones. I like Apple’s open approach to security and privacy. It is explicit in what it collects and ensures the data is encrypted and anonymous. In this respect, it is something of a pioneer. In fact, Apple’s focus on privacy and security ended up costing Facebook billions by blocking the social networks trackers on iPhone and iPad.
And iPhones don’t have to be expensive either; you can pick up new models like the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro Max for around the same price as most modern Chinese flagship phones now. And Apple’s iPhone 11 will get iOS support well into the late 2020s, unlike most Chinese phones that only get one or two major Android updates.Richard Goodwin
Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.