Total Surveillance Through a Smartphone is a Reality

Written by Hassan Abbas

In the light of recent events, which the media have already called a trade war between the US and China, the US authorities accused Chinese manufacturers of smartphones in tracking users. In particular, it was a question of mobile devices of companies ZTE and Huawei. However, the recent case, published on Reddit, says that the situation goes far beyond the scope of several manufacturers.

The user under the name BigTyPB complained that the Chinese policemen forcibly installed a spyware application on his smartphone.

“My wife and I recently crossed the Chinese border, where the police installed some software on our Android devices (its Moto X4 and my Huawei Mate 9). I saw how he [the policeman] installed something – an application icon appeared on the desktop. The policeman launched it, after which the icon disappeared.

I’m not sure if this is due to ROOT or something else, but something was installed on our smartphones. I know for sure because they used a portable device to confirm that our phones are communicating with their system. Does anyone have any suggestions, how can I check that they do not follow me? “



Everyone knows that China in its quest to create a “harmonious socialist society” has long been monitoring its citizens, limiting their freedom. Perhaps the most famous government project in this direction is the Golden Shield, which is also called the “Great Chinese Firewall”. Now in China, there are more than 170 million surveillance systems. And the camera is everywhere: in airports and train stations and even in some schools. Often, such systems have a face recognition function.

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Already, the Chinese police use equipment to identify citizens, on the turn – labels for cars. The Chinese are becoming hostages to the recently conducted social rating, which is based on information gathered about them and largely predetermines their lives. By 2020, the authorities plan to create a single database with information about every citizen of the country, including biometric data, interests, and preferences based on social networks. It’s no secret that the government cooperates with the largest Chinese technology companies, including Weibo, Baidu, and WeChat.

By the way, late last year Indian intelligence services published a list of 42 mobile applications created by Chinese developers who can spy on users, collect certain data, or be used for potential attacks. This list includes two Xiaomi applications.


But back to our history. As it turned out, this happened on the border between Osh (Kyrgyzstan) and Kashgar (China). This is the north-western part of the country where the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is located. Here live about 10 million people representing an ethnic minority. Basically, these are Uighurs-Muslims, with whom the Chinese authorities have to put it mildly strained relations. In the period from 2008 to 2014, several terrorist attacks took place in the country, organized by radicals from Uyghur Muslims.

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“The local population is under intense surveillance, and it seems that all smartphone owners already have software for surveillance. On the land border, Uyghur phones are subject to mandatory verification, tourists’ devices are much less common. Often you can see a policeman with a small device to pair with the phone. It says something in Chinese and has an inscription in English – Phone Hunter ID.

They were looking for laptops and cameras, then our smartphones were suddenly at their disposal. Now I’m still in China. I will not overload or reset the settings on the phone, when I get home I want to figure out what I’ve been installed, “BigTyPB wrote on Reddit.
Chinese authorities in Xinjiang province are forcing local residents to install on their smartphones a special application called Jingwang (“civil security”). According to their idea, this should help to identify calls for the implementation of extremist and terrorist activities. The project was launched in April last year, and after three months the authorities put an ultimatum to the Uighurs, threatening them with detentions for 10 days for refusing to install the application. At the same time, periodically the police arrange raids to check mobile devices for the presence of the program.

Girl with Phone

Jingwang generates hashes of MD5 user files and maps them to a database of terrorist content. The application also makes copies of Weibo network data and WeChat messenger and uploads them to the government server along with other system information. Users can not refuse using mobile devices. Change the messenger and social network on WhatsApp and Facebook through the VPN service will not work, the authorities quickly calculate it and limit the communication.

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Beijing is guided in its actions by the law on combating terrorism, adopted in 2015. Although such a strict total control is applied only in Xinjiang. Partly because the Uighurs are more independent and freedom-loving than the Chinese. However, in the Middle Kingdom, people have long resigned themselves to this state of affairs and live under constant surveillance, as if in a TV show. It so happened that to monitor the citizens of China began even under Mao Zedong. Then the ruling communist party introduced an obligatory system of conducting personal affairs “dan-anh“, but this is a slightly different story.

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About the author

Hassan Abbas

Tech enthusiast with too many items on his wish-list and not nearly enough money! Specializing in all things tech, with a slight Apple bent he has been writing for various blogs for the best part of (too many) years

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