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Xiaomi updates cloud messaging after privacy scare

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Chinese mobe-maker Xiaomi has changed the defaults on its cloud messaging service, in response to concerns raised by F-Secure that it was storing users' private data.

At issue is a service provided for its Mi phones, which was switched on by default until the over-the-air update was issued. In this blog post, F-Secure notes that the phones send carrier name, IMEI, phone number, and contacts to a Xiaomi server when switched on – and that it was sent unencrypted.

The service is intended to operate as an over-the-top messaging app: if there's an IP connection available, it will route messages over that, using SMS as a fallback. While that requires that numbers pass through the Xiaomi servers, the privacy scare related to how long that data might be kept by the company.

In response, Xiaomi's VP Hugo Barra has offered an explanation on Google+.

“MIUI Cloud Messaging uses SIM and device identifiers (phone number, IMSI and IMEI) for routing messages between two users, in the same way as some of the most popular messaging services”, he writes. “Users’ phonebook contact data or social graph information (i.e. the mapping between contacts) are never stored on Cloud Messaging servers, and message content (in encrypted form) is not kept for longer than necessary to ensure immediate delivery to the receiver.”

However, in response to the F-Secure post, he adds that the service will no longer be switched on by default. After running the over-the-air update, users will have to turn the service on manually.

“We apologize for any concern caused to our users and Mi fans. We would also like to thank the media and users who have been sending us feedback and suggestions, allowing us to improve and provide better Internet services”, Barra writes.

He added that the update also turns on encryption for numbers sent to the Xiaomi servers. ®

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