The recent privacy scare regarding Xiaomi smartphones was just hype after all as the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Tuesday clarified to IndianExpress.com that the said advisory against using phones from this Chinese brand was about “four to five months old”. That would mean the alert was from before the Xiaomi started selling its phones in India.
The Sunday Standard (part of The New Indian Express Group) had on October 19 reported that IAF had issued an alert with ‘medium’ severity rating against the use of Xiaomi smartphones on account of ‘spying’. IndianExpress.com had reported that the IAF alert might have been based on an old report by software security firm F-Secure, which has since been corrected.
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“The advisory itself is about four months old. The strange thing is that it has now been pulled out by the media. No new notification has been issued by IAF recently regarding the use of Xiaomi smartphones. The advisory should not be misunderstood as a ban. There are no restrictions in IAF regarding the use of smartphones from any brand as it is totally for personal usage,” said an officer in the Western Command to IndianExpress.com, who did want his name to be quoted.
Citing the reason for the advisory he said: “IAF doesn’t keep track of the smartphone market and neither does it recommend any particular brand or handset to its personnel. The advisory did not mention anything on banning the use of Chinese smartphones at all. It was more like a cautionary note as the handset was tracking user’s location and was sending the information to servers based in Beijing. This entire conclusion was based on reports from other sources. The advisory is nothing serious.” He said similar advisories had been issued before regarding the use of personal computers as well.
So, do IAF personnel carry sensitive information on their smartphone?
“Not really. Cellphones give away user’s location. It is a bit sensitive but we are not at all worried about the operational information being compromised. However, certain inferences could be drawn if any smartphone tracks our personnel’s locations and IAF is not keen on letting others draw such inferences,” said the official.
IAF has its own network based cellphones now, so, the dependence on commercially made mobile phones is slowly reducing. “Even in this IAF network, sensitive information is never communicated,” added the official.
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