India plans to test Chinese smartphones over snooping concerns

test smartphones India
Image by Poravute Siriphiroon | Bigstockphoto

Chinese smartphone makers will face challenging times in the coming months, with the Indian government exploring a potential regulation to mandate teardown testing of their mobile handsets.

Through this possible “mandatory teardown”, the Indian government will try to ensure that Chinese smartphones and their operating systems and applications are not snooping on Indians.

The development comes at a time that India and China are involved in a border dispute that has been ongoing since last year. Reports suggest that the move is being seen as a retaliation for the continued Chinese aggression at the Sino-India borders.

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), National Technical Research Organisation and the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, along with other government bodies, are exploring possibilities to bring a full-fledged regulation.

Meity has already sent notices to Chinese smartphone makers Vivo, Oppo, Xiaomi, and OnePlus asking hardware and software details, particularly pre-installed apps, for concerns related to security.

The Economic Times reported that the government is seeking details regarding the “Bill of Material” (BoM) of their smartphones from Chinese handset companies. “

“They may also be asked to share details of their vendors from whom they source components for their smartphones…a complete analysis is being done. 10 action points were discussed, while some were diluted, some were seriously being explored and worked upon,” a person aware of the matter was quoted as saying by the publication.

The report added that Chinese handset companies might also be asked to share the source code of their smartphones for testing. The Indian government’s initial focus is to evaluate Chinese brands’ strategy to pre-install certain apps on their smartphones.

As per the report, the Indian government is trying to find out the nature of these apps and why these apps come pre-installed and if these apps share certain information.

Chinese players such as Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus and Realme together account for over 70% of the Indian smartphone market, as per local market trackers. Among the top five, four brands are of Chinese origin.

Notably, India last year banned over 220 Chinese apps, including certain apps from Chinese handset major Xiaomi.

Xiaomi’s applications came pre-installed on MIUI OS that powers most Mi, Redmi and Poco smartphones. The company, however, brought an updated OS without any of the blocked apps.

India is also trying to check the conduct of Chinese smartphone companies in the country, including potential tax evasion. The Indian tax authorities recently carried out raids on ZTE and Samsung premises.

The Indian government has already introduced the trusted sources and companies regime for telecom equipment and networking products to check alleged cyber-snooping. The move is reportedly aimed at keeping Huawei and ZTE out of critical areas of a telecom network.

As per the report, the regulation may be introduced for the entire industry, but Chinese brands will be in focus. “The government can put in a special provision for companies from countries that share borders with India,” the person was quoted as saying.

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