It may have been a long weekend for Xiaomi smartphone users in India (albeit in lockdown), but thanks to Forbes it turned out to be an exciting one as well.
This is all thanks to a couple of researchers and Forbes who put up a story alleging that Xiaomi’s built in Mi Browser and the downloadable Mint browser was sharing browser data (history, URLs, search engine queries) to servers in China. This they did with video evidence showing all the activity that happens in the background while you casually use the browser on the phone. One detail to note from the research claims is that the browsers shared data even in Incognito mode, something that other browsers or the default Android browser Chrome does not.
Xiaomi was quick to notice the post and the attention it was getting and said it was disappointed with what Forbes had reported. This was followed by a video by Xiaomi Global VP, Manu Kumar Jain outrightly tagging the report as “Incorrect News”. On the 2nd of May, Xiaomi put out the following statement:
“Xiaomi was disappointed to read the recent article from Forbes. We feel they have misunderstood what we communicated regarding our data privacy principles and policy. Our user’s privacy and internet security is of top priority at Xiaomi; we are confident that we strictly follow and are fully compliant with local laws and regulations. We have reached out to Forbes to offer clarity on this unfortunate misinterpretation.”
This was followed by a more detailed explanation about how Forbes misrepresented the facts.
On the 3rd of May, Xiaomi put out another statement. It claimed that Xiaomi would soon be adding a toggle to its web browsers via an update from the Google Play Store.
“Given our goal of providing world class secure services and products to all users, our next Mint Browser and Mi Browser software update will include an option in incognito mode for all users of both browsers to switch on/off the aggregated data collection, in an effort to further strengthen the control we grant users over sharing their own data with Xiaomi. The software updates will be submitted to Google Play for approval within today (May 3, GMT+8).”
And by the end of the day, the software updates began to roll out with the new toggle that now lets you prevent sharing your user data in Incognito mode. Stuff recommends that you update all the apps on your Xiaomi smartphones ASAP unless you are fine with sharing your data with Xiaomi. Xiaomi basically invented an Enhanced Incognito mode. While the browser's Incognito mode will continue to share aggregated user data, switching on Enhanced Incognito mode (Settings> Incognito mode> Enhanced Incognito mode> Toggle On) will finally stop sharing your data with Xiaomi. By default, Xiaomi's browsers will continue to share user data with Xiaomi unless the user switches it off by using the new Enhanced mode because 'Incognito' just isn't enough.
The links to all of Xiaomi’s responses can be found here.