December 5, 2014 by ...
Life was good in the land of cell phones until Xiaomi came along. As a consumer you could be sure that your IPhone was a real IPhone and that its quality was sound. If you wanted bigger kit, you’d opt for Samsung.
There was something for everyone. Hell, even those who wanted to cooperate with the communists in Beijing could choose Huawei or ZTE. Buying their units meant cc’ing Beijing on all your affairs. But these two were pretty open about it. Huawei was started by a PLA officer and is the brand of choice for communist cadres. ZTE started out as a military arm and has not progressed much from that. Once again, these firms were relatively forthcoming. And then came Xiaomi.
Xaomi, Beijing’s sneaky hometown boy
Like I said, Huawei and ZTE did not come out and say they were spying for Beijing, but anyone with a pulse could read between the lines. After all, one does not attempt to bug the NSA (allegedly), place backdoors in their kit and dress PLA soldiers as Huawei employees and then ship them off to ‘fix’ problems with Huawei gear installed at crucial overseas locations.
Xiaomi, on the other hand, appears much more benign. Aside from the communist bunny mascot and military themed gear, it seems like just another tech firm.
If one looks closely, however, they would see that Xiaomi’s founder Lei Jun, is a proud member of the communist party and sits atop their faux-law making body. While Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s Commandant hides his party cred, nobody seems to ask Lei Jun about his. This lack of scrutiny into Lei and his ilk are what should concern us most.
Xiaomi, stealing our data?
Tawain is now investing up to one dozen cell phone companies in order to ascertain what security risk, if any, they pose. This move is due in great part to none other than Xiaomi. Xiaomi the three year old company which started selling overseas for less than six months but has already raised security hackles across the region.
Is it just me or does the timing of this announcement leave no doubt about the concern that they have over Xiaomi? As I said, Huawei and ZTE have been carrying on for years and everyone pretty much knew and accepted it. But once again, they were regarded as extensions of Beijing. Xiaomi, on the other hand, decided to fly below the radar, appearing like that ‘nice guy next door’. Their actions betrayed them and this is what we have.
Taiwan’s move a sign of things to come?
It would appear that Taiwan is leading the charge in ensuring that handset makers play fair with our data. They are not buying into the whole ‘We are just a little private cell phone company’ motif. They know Xiaomi steals data and are holding them accountable. As such, they are leading the charge.
From what we have seen in Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, India, and others it would seem that the Taiwanese move is merely the tip of the iceberg. They are more brazen in their attempts at isolating Xiaomi as they have more to lose vis-a-vis spying from Beijing. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and the backlash from Beijing, if any.