Lithuanian government warns consumers not to buy new Chinese phones and to throw out old ones ASAP

The Defence Ministry of Lithuania has issued a warning that people should stop buying phones from China and should "get rid of those already purchased as fast as reasonably possible".

The extraordinary advice comes after a government report found that handsets produced by Xiaomi and Huawei include a feature to detect and censor certain words and phrases. On the blacklist are terms such as "free Tibet", "long live Taiwan independence" or "democracy movement", and while the censoring functionality was disabled for the European market, there is the potential for it to be remotely activated at any time.

The report follows an investigation into three Chinese-produced handsets -- the Huawei P40 5G, the Xiaomi Mi 10T 5G and the OnePlus 8T 5G. While no issues were found with the OnePlus phone, Huawei and Xiaomi's handsets were found to pose worrying security risks including the potential to censor well over 400 words and phrases.

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Dr. Tautvydas Bakšys, head of Innovation and Training Division of the National Cyber Security Centre under Ministry of National Defence said:

We have found that the content filter functionality is disabled in the Xiaomi cell phones supplied to Lithuania and does not carry out the content censorship activity, however, the censored keyword lists are still periodically updated. The device is technically enabled to activate the functionality remotely at any time without the user’s permission and to begin censoring the downloaded content. We do not rule out that the banned keyword list can be drawn using Latin, not just Chinese characters.

There are also great concerns about apps on the phones sending personal data back to manufacturers.

Introducing the report, Vice Minister of National Defence Margiris Abukevičius, issued the warning: "Our recommendation is to not buy new Chinese phones, and to get rid of those already purchased as fast as reasonably possible".

Image credit: Azat Valeev / Shutterstock

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