Throw away bargain Huawei phones or risk China spying on you, officials warn

People are being urged to throw away their Chinese smartphones—including Huawei and Xiaomi handsets—or risk censorship and spying.

The Lithuanian government has told its citizens to get rid of Chinese smartphones as "fast as reasonably possible" after discovering some worrying secret features that could be feeding data back to China.

In a report, Lithuania's National Cyber Security Centre says it tested 5G mobiles from a number of Chinese manufacturers and discovered built-in features that put users at risk of viruses and even censorship.

"Our recommendation is to not buy new Chinese phones, and to get rid of those already purchased as fast as possible," said Defence Deputy Minister Margiris Abukevicius.

The report found a flaw in Huawei's flagship P40 5G smartphone, in which the official Huawei app store, AppGallery, is directing users to third party app stores that include downloads with viruses and spyware.

While Lithuania claims this puts users at a major cybersecurity risk, Huawei has denied any issues, telling the BBC it abides by the rules in countries it operates it.

"Data is never processed outside the Huawei device," a spokesman said.

"AppGallery only collects and processes the data necessary to allow its customers to search, install, and manage third-party apps, in the same way as other app stores." He also said that Huawei performs security checks on user downloads to ensure they are safe.

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More concerningly, the Lithuanian team tested a number of phones from Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi.

They claim that the flagship Mi 10T 5G phone includes software that can detect and censor more than 449 terms deemed as anti-government in China, such as 'Free Tibet', 'Taiwan independence' or 'democracy movement.

While this capability is not active in Europe, the report said it could be activated at any time remotely. The researchers also found that the phone was transferring encrypted phone data to a Singapore-based server.

Xiaomi denied the claims amid booming popularity of its affordable smartphones.

A spokeswoman said that "Xiaomi's devices do not censor communications to or from its users. 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."

The row follows rising tensions between Lithuania and China after Taiwan announced plans to open an embassy in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

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