China: Tourist mobile phones scanned with app

8. July 2019

Foreign tourists who want to enter the Chinese province of Xinjiang by land are spied out via an app.
For the first time, employees of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Motherboard Vice and various other media portals in cooperation with IT-experts of the Ruhr University Bochum have succeeded in decrypting a Chinese surveillance software that also targets foreigners.

It has been known for some time that the Chinese authorities use apps to monitor the Uighur residents of Xinjiang province (we reported). What is new is that foreign tourists and businessmen coming from Kyrgyzstan to Xinjiang by land have to hand in their mobile phones at the borders and then get the Android app “Fengcai” (“collecting bees”) installed. They are not explicitly informed about this.

The app gets access to the contacts, the calendar, the SMS, the location or the call lists and transmits them to a computer of the border police. In addition, the app scans the phone for over 70,000  files that are suspicious from Chineses government’s point of view. Many scanned files refer to extremist content related to the Islamic state, but also harmless religious content or files related to Taiwan, Tibet or the Dalai Lama are part of the list. If the app discovers anything, it emits a warning tone and thereby informs the border police.

The app also scans the phones to see which apps were installed by the user and even extract usernames but several antivirus firms already updated their products to identify the app as malware.

Neither the Chinese authorities nor the company that developed the app requested to a request for comment.

Category: General · Personal Data
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