Xiaomi to Discuss Data Security ‘Issues’ With the Indian Government Part 2

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October 30, 2014 by ...

In part one of this post I explained how Xiaomi is facing an uphill battle in convincing any other country about the security of its products. Chinese telcos and internet companies are infamous. Leading the charge are Huawei and ZTE which have been ‘caught’ in the act of spying. This action has shed a negative light on all Chinese firms.

Lei Jun’s background is in IT and he should know better than anyone about protecting customer data. He apparently has not passed this along to Xiaom, which he founded. Repeated security breaches by his phones, especially the 1S are a cause for concern.

Part of the problem is that Chinese firms are often stererotyped as being unsafe. Whether untrue or not, it is a fact which Lei Jun must face. Transparency is the best solution in the face of negative press. To many Xiaomi has been less than forthright and thus concerns have arisen.

Xiaomi just needs to try harder
Let me put it to you like this. My best friend is an African-American and he says that when in public he must be on his best behavior. ‘People see a big black guy like me and they get nervous,’ he says. ‘I need to convince them I’m not dangerous.’

Even though he has a gently soul, he is victim of his skin color. He knows its unfair, I know it, but it cannot be changed. In order to minmize problems, he is overly polite and non-threatening. Xiaomi, however, does the opposite.

In all things digital we do not trust
Snowden opened our eyes to the potential danger of all things digital. This has jaded the opinion of many. We now know our data is vulnerable; we just want to minimze risk. When and if a security ‘faux pas’ occurs we want quick decisive action which helps regain trust. Once again, Xiaomi has done nothing of the sort.

Xiaomi, so many missteps in so little time
Consider this, up until this year Xiaomi was a China-only player. Over 97% of the sales were in the Chinese mainland. Their foray into India, Malaysia and others are a 2014 phenomenon. In the few short months that Xiaomi has sold abroad, it has created a security nightmare. Can anyone recall a phone which was being banned due to security concerns within its first year?

Even worse, Xiaomi’s global rollout was confined to a few countries, most of which have expressed concern about the gear. Talk about starting off on the wrong foot. One would be hard-pressed to find a more ominous ‘coming out’ than the one Xiaomi has created.

What the Chinese know
The Chinese have had more time with Xiaomi kit and are much more tempered in their enthusiasm. Sure they buy a lot of Lei’s handsets, but that does not mean they trust him. And once again, you must remember that the Chinese are used to breaches of privacy, they are much more tolerant than we are. What might be an invasive deal breaker to many is just a fact of life for many Chinese. They accept it and move on.

Hidden in Chinese
The reason that we hear little-to-nothing about Xiaomi complaints from the PRC is that they are all written in Mandarin. Few of these problems have been translated and shared. With the exception of exploding cell phones and chargers, Xiaomi has flown below the radar because so few people read and access Chinese websites. This has served to protect Lei Jun and the image of his firm.

Simply put, countries now buying Xiaomi phones are feeling the same pain as the mainladers have for years. Customer service is inept at best and non-existent at worst. Xiaomi phones are finnicky, glitchy and prone to defects. In the mainland they have more customer complaints than any other phone, yet make up a fraction of the total market and have few older phones in circulation.

All of these things the rest of the world will soon be experiencing and indeed this has already begun. After a round of flash sales on Flipkart, an Indian user did the math and showed that fully 10% of Xiaomi phones that shipped were defective. This squares with quality concerns that the Chinese have expressed as well.

Customer service is also an issue, as expressed across many Indian and Malaysian websites. Amazon too, is littered with customer reviews bemoaning customer service issues poimarily and quality as well.

What this means for Xiaomi
The more people know about Xiaomi, the more concerns they have. Lei Jun’s attempt at wooing India is an effort to staunch that negative ink and create trust. Xiaomi has suggested moving servers to India as a part of that strategy.

Unfortunately, one has to wonder about Lei’s sincerity. After all, merely moving servers does not prevent Xiaomi from sending data to Beijing if they wish. In fact, it is just this concern which was part of the IAF decision to ban Xiaomi gear. Server location is not the problem, data security is. Xiaomi’s continued ‘non response’ to data theft allows customers to know his stance in such things. In this day and age that is worrisome.

Lei Jun will do as much as he can to allay any fears of wrong doing, but as they say ‘actions speak louder than words’. For such a young company, Xiaomi has already created quite a stir in terms of security issues. Does anyone think these will improve over time? Perhaps they will, but as they say, ‘The best predictor of tomorrow’s performance is today’s.’

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