Low-cost smartphones by Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi are allegedly automatically sending users' data to China

Taiwan fears Xiaomi smartphones spy on users

Taiwan has launched a cyber-security investigation into smartphone technology by Chinese producer Xiaomi following allegations the devices can send user data to China.

Xiaomi, the dominant supplier of low-cost smartphones to Taiwan, was forced to change its default cloud feature earlier this year after a Finnish security company proved the firm was able to collect address book data without permission.

The Chinese smartphone maker has also been accused in the Hong Kong media of sending copies of user text messages back to servers on the mainland, a claim that the company has vigorously called false and libellous.

"We wanted to ensure the situation was as they said, so we decided to perform our own tests," said Gin-Shian Lou, director at Taiwan's National Communications Commission.

The Taiwanese government said it would announce the results of the inquiry within three months but didn’t specify what action it was considering to take against Xiaomi if found to be a cyber-threat.

Chinese regulations allow the country’s government to request access to any data stored on Chinese soil. This setting, providing the government with a convenient way to legally view large amounts of information on users of digital services, prompted some companies, including Google, to avoid China as a location of its servers.

The current investigation throws the spotlight on China-Taiwanese relations. The countries have been historical foes since defeated Nationalists fled to the island after losing a civil war to China's Communists in 1949. The government in Beijing still regards Taiwan as a renegade province.

Taiwan has been growing increasingly concerned about the effect of China’s technology dominance on the country’s democratic society.

Earlier this year Taiwan's police force has encouraged employees not to use mobile messaging app WeChat, developed by Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings.

However, it’s not only Chinese companies raising concerns in Taiwan. The country’s government said on Tuesday that popular Japanese instant messaging service Line, owned by South Korea's Naver Corp, will be banned from use on government work-related computers, also due to security concerns.

Xiaomi, a major player in the Chinese smartphone market, is looking to expand its business in other Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and India. It is also eyeing expansion into countries such as Thailand, Brazil and Mexico.

Hong Kong's public broadcaster quoted the head of the China's Taiwan Affairs Office as expressing dismay over Taiwan's decision, saying "one cannot stop the attractiveness of Xiaomi phones among compatriots across the strait".

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