Your cell phone is not your own anymore

A little while ago we've analyzed the situation around Samsung SmartTVs regarding their blocking in a case of a supposed theft. We understand that it is really not so easy to absorb the idea that a vendor can abuse the blocking feature and rid an honest user out of their device, inducing anger and frustration out of nowhere. But we did not have to wait long to find more baffling examples.

This time it was Xiaomi, the cheap-and-good Chinese smartphone manufacturer. On September the 10th, they started blocking phones located in Cuba, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Sudan, and Crimea. A happy owner of a new shiny gadget would turn it on, activate it, and suddenly become an owner of a shiny new piece of uselessness.

A notification would appear on the screen, accompanying the complete lock of the device:

Xiaomi policy does not permit sale or provision of the product to the territory in which you have attempted to activate it. Please contact the retailer directly for additional information

Image: XDA-Developers

Looks quite like Samusng's attempts to fight illegal sales of illegally acquired devices, doesn't it?

To be fair, Xiaomi later restored the access to most of the devices and apologized for this, ahem, "occasional outage".

However, it is one of those situations that make you think a lot. You buy a device, but you have so little control over it. Do you even own anything nowadays? Why do you pay money for something that does not work on your command, doesn't always work the same expected way, something that leaks your data, snitches on you to commercial companies and states? Do we, as users, really need such technologies?

And then there's the question of trust. If there has to be someone else who possesses such great power over things that play such a big role in our life, we'd better choose a trustworthy one. But who can we trust?

Nobody is perfect

We used to think that big companies care about us, their customers — how else would they sell their products to us? But all that is happening recently makes us doubt it more and more, and we are right to. Because our data is more valuable than us, our wellbeing, even our safety.

Big games are played, and big bets are put around data. And sometimes the ball lands on zero and your data gets leaked. Here are just a few examples:

Still not convinced, still think that the above-described cases are about some abstract big fat companies that have nothing to do with your life? Here's something much more relatable:

September 2021: Syniverse reported to SEC about a breach that they had discovered back in May, 2021, although the attack had started back in 2016!

Syniverse is a huge global corporation providing technological and business services to a number of telecom providers and a lot of smaller IT companies all over the world. AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Vodafone, and even China Mobile are among their clients. Pretty much all of the folks thanks to whom you can use your phone and mobile internet.

Syniverse processes an enormous amount of phone calls, and they process, as they claim, 740 bln of text messages yearly. It makes 4 trillion messages since 2016, that had possibly been intercepted by the hackers.

And let's not forget about that epic Twitch hack of October 2021. Besides stealing the source code of the platform, SDKs, and maintenance and testing software, they stole the data about streamers' earnings. Now we know who makes how much money on Twitch. Would you like for such thing to be known about you?

With all of that in mind, it doesn't seem that crazy zny more that a cell phone manufacturer can get hacked. And it extends beyond cell phones to all smart devices as a class. And the attacks keep happening all over the world.

We don't call on throwing your Xiaomi smartphone into the trash bin. That's not the point. Yes, Xiaomi and privacy are no bros, but other vendors, unfortunately, are not much better. Xiaomi just have recently provided a good example of what we are talking about. The bottom line is, nobody is safe and secured from a data breach, including huge global vendors, developers and providers. No device is truly safe and secured.

If you're really interested in the topic, here's a longread about over 60 biggest data breaches.

And here we arrive to the same point that we like to make a lot, again. Because it is important. Pay attention. Be on watch. Follow your data to where it goes. Use all that there is to limit companies' access to your data. Check our article on digital safety and data hygiene — we've really had put an effort in making it useful, because it is important for us, and because we believe it is important for you.

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December 24, 2021
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