Chinese Phone Maker's Data Collection Raises Concerns, Centre Orders Probe

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Chinese handset manufacturer Realme has come under government scanner after its data collection feature raised concerns about user privacy. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Minister of State for Information Technology and Electronics, ordered a probe after it was pointed out that the Chinese phone maker’s “Enhanced Intelligent Services” feature, which captures sensitive user data including call logs, SMS, and location information, is automatically enabled upon device setup.

The concern was raised by a Twitter user Rishi Bagree on the platform.

Rajeev Chandrsekhar, the minister of state for IT and electronics, replying to the tweet, said he will get it checked and tested.

Realme is yet to respond to a request for a reaction on the matter.

Forced Consent and Lack of Transparency

Realme’s Enhanced Intelligent Services is turned “On” by default, effectively obliging users to share their data without explicit consent. This approach has drawn criticism as it veers away from standard privacy practices, where users are typically given the option to choose whether to share their data. By enabling this feature without clear notification or user agreement, Realme has been accused of keeping Indian users in the dark about their data being collected and potentially shared.

Accessing the Enhanced Intelligent Services Setting

To access the Enhanced Intelligent Services setting on a Realme smartphone, users need to navigate to Settings, followed by Additional Settings, System Services, and finally, Enhanced Intelligent Services. This convoluted pathway, buried within system settings, makes it less likely for users to be aware of the default data collection feature and the opportunity to disable it.

‘Enhanced Intelligent Services’ improves the user experience by optimising device functions based on how you use your device. This feature needs to collect your information including device information, app usage statistics, location information, calendar events and statistics about unread SMS messages and missed calls, and obtain the following permissions access your location information, connect to the Internet and read your calendar events SMS messages and call logs.

Data Security Concerns

The primary concern for users lies in the destination of the collected data. While Realme is a Chinese handset manufacturer, it is essential to note that merely collecting data does not confirm it is being sent to China. In the absence of explicit information from Realme about data storage and transmission, it is challenging to definitively state whether the data collected by Enhanced Intelligent Services is being sent to servers in China. According to Counterpoint Research, Realme saw a 52% year-on-year decline in Q1 2023, resulting in the brand slipping to fifth place with a 9% share.



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